Did you know that people who go to church are inherently good people? That they never do anything wrong or make bad decisions? Oh, you didn’t? That’s because it’s bunkum.
Somebody needs to tell that to Muskogee County, OK District Judge Mike Norman.
17-year-old Tyler Alred was convicted of manslaughter after colliding with a tree, killing his passenger. He had been drinking and, although under the legal limit, since he was a minor he was considered to be driving under the influence of alcohol. Last week, Alred’s conviction was deferred under the condition that — wait for it — he attend church on Sunday for 10 years.
Oh separation of church and state. You’re doing it so wrong.
Let’s think about this for a second. Part of this young man’s punishment is to go to church for 10 years. One could interpret this in one of two ways:
1. Going to church is horrible and basically like going to jail.
2. Going to church will help this guy mature into a responsible human being.
Somehow I doubt it’s number one.
I have two problems with this. First, there is no possible way this is legal. As the Tulsa World points out, if this sentence were challenged it would be unlikely to be upheld. The church/state issues are staggering:
Randall Coyne, a professor of law at the University of Oklahoma, said the church-attendance condition probably wouldn’t withstand a legal challenge but that someone would have to file such a challenge.
“It raises legal issues because of (the separation of) church and state,” he said.
Coyne said defense lawyers in other cases have successfully challenged orders that their clients attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings because of AA’s spiritual component.
But, of course, this would require a legal challenge. And, come on. This guy got probation if he agreed to go to church for 10 years. What would you do?
I’m offended by this ruling not only as a trained lawyer, but as a None. I mean, really. I was long ago disabused of the notion that churchgoers are inherently better people. Churchgoers are just like everyone else. Some of them are really great, genuine people, but others are definitely not.
Going to church (or any other religious service, for that matter) doesn’t make you a better person its own. Most of my friends are faithless, and they are the nicest, most compassionate people I’ve ever met. I wouldn’t want to extrapolate so far as to say that non-faith causes good behavior, but it certainly doesn’t prohibit it. To assume otherwise is insulting and dehumanizing. And, perhaps more importantly, it lets people who are supposedly religious off the hook for their bad behavior. (I think we could all name a few congressmen who fit this description.)
If this was an isolated incident, I might not be so upset. But it isn’t. According to the Tulsa World, this isn’t the first time this particular judge has sentenced a person to church. And earlier this year, a South Carolina judge sentenced a drunk driver to Bible study.
Jesus saves, indeed.
Here’s the kicker: Alred already goes to church every Sunday, according to his attorney:
Defense attorney Donn Baker said that although the church requirement is unusual, it is not something he intends to challenge.
“My client goes to church every Sunday,” Baker said. “That isn’t going to be a problem for him. We certainly want the probation for him.”
Oh good. I can tell this sentence is really going to change Alred’s life.
Image credit: Ryk Neethling
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