ABA Journal


Criminal Justice

Judge Allows Teen to Avoid Prison with Mandate for 10 Years of Church Attendance

Nov 20, 2012, 12:40 pm CST


Given the endorsement of the DA and the victim's family, I can support this wise and thoughtful decision. Prison is not always the best option.

By Yankee on 2012 11 20, 1:36 pm CST

While we can probably all agree that the young man attending religious services is likely a good thing, I am VERY concerned at the slope this leads toward. Hasn't the judge heard about the separation of church and state? It's not far to jump from this situation to a situation where a judge is ordering an atheist, or a muslim, or a jew, to attend Christian services (making a logic jump here that the judge is Christian since most are), which would be a horrifying violation of the concept of church and state. (And yes, I recognize the original text says "Congress shall make no law . . .")

By RecentGrad on 2012 11 20, 2:15 pm CST

It's insulting that the Judge would think that having this guy go to any church serves as fitting punishment for the life that was lost.

By Esq. in Austin on 2012 11 20, 2:17 pm CST

Most mainstream religions (Muslim, Jewish, Christian) encourage moderation in drink. They all stress personal responsibility and service to others. Requiring this young man to be exposed to those kinds of messages for 10 years, with his and the victim's family's approval, makes this kind of a non-story, doesn't it?
Oh wait, the ACLU piped in. The ACLU should pass on this and maybe start defending Pro-Life Activists who have their constitutional rights violated on a daily basis. I know its an uncool group, but if the ACLU can defend the Nazi's in Skokie surely they can do this right? You know, the bizarre notion that human children are deserving of some rights, even in utero? Equal rights for all. Helping a group that has been historically maltreated or denied rights, etc, etc....

By UncleJed on 2012 11 20, 2:50 pm CST

@3 Attending church is just one thing among a package of requirements imposed on the Defendant. Given the fact that this sentence was approved by the DA, the victim's family and the Defendant, your sense of 'insult' is surprising

By Yankee on 2012 11 20, 3:25 pm CST

I do not believe it matters who agreed with the punishment. The separation of church and state clause goes directly against this mandate from a government entity choosing a religion as part of a governmental exercise of power.

This should be overturned.

By Young Lawyer on 2012 11 20, 5:18 pm CST

While I can agree attending any church service is a significant punishment, and even more so with the anticipation of doing so for ten years, encouraging people to solve their problems by having a telepathic relationship with an imaginary friend is probably not the standard we should expect or permit from our judiciary, even in Oklahoma.

By dsr on 2012 11 20, 5:36 pm CST

I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but this defendant is a 17-year-old kid, convicted of manslaughter for killing another in an auto accident because he was driving under the influence of alcohol. The death was not intentional. The kid was probably no more or less stupid than most other kids who get drunk on Saturday nights. Like most kids, he no doubt thought he could handle it. But all it takes is a momentary lapse of judgment behind the wheel to do harm. The defendant was sentenced to, among other things, ATTENDING church as a condition of his probation. The judge didn't require him to take communion. The judge didn't require him to agree with the church doctrine. But having to appear in church bright and early every Sunday in front of all of his neighbors will probably do more to keep him from drinking every Saturday night than having him report to a parole officer.

By BMF on 2012 11 20, 7:12 pm CST

This kid has to be thanking his lucky stars he lives in a state run by Fundies. Church is an intellectual and emotional prison only if you let it be, but a brick and mortar prison is the closest one gets to hell on this earth. The notion that attending church will transform character is roughly akin to the notion that living next to the water will make one an Olympic swimmer. The judge had it almost right though. It's the belief in god that works in strange ways.

By Pushkin on 2012 11 20, 8:03 pm CST

@6 " . . . separation of church and state clause . . ."

The phrase "separation of church and state" does not appear in any clause or provision of the Constitution, including the First Amendment.


"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

By Yankee on 2012 11 20, 8:53 pm CST


I take a few objections to your general statement about Oklahoma.

By OKBankLaw on 2012 11 20, 8:58 pm CST

My primary problem with this ruling is that it seems subjective. Does the Judge deliver this ruling to all the underage drinking manslaughter cases he presides over? If not then what 's the criterion upon which he bases the decision to send one to kid to prison or to church?

By Richard on 2012 11 20, 9:31 pm CST

@10 -neither does the phrase "freedom of association" appear in any clause or provision of the Constitution, including the First Amendment. Yet somehow the vast majority of judges, politicians and the electorate is able to find that right within the meaning of the First Amendment, including those who spout your meme. The form of pedantic textualism that militates this "the Constitution never says 'separation of church and state'" meme is wonderful for people trying to appeal to the Fox News/Glenn Beck masses, and irrelevant to people who actually care to discuss the Constitution.

By Lrn2Read on 2012 11 21, 11:16 am CST

@13 ". . . people who actually care to discuss the Constitution."

If you want to "discuss" the Constitution, then you have to "discuss" what is actually written in the text of the document.

The Constitution is not a Rorschach inkblot that allows the reader to impose upon it the reader's own values. The Constitution at its essence is a compact among the several states whereby the states contributed a portion of their sovereignty (which they, in turn, get from the people) to create a national government. It is critical that the terms of that compact be honored.

When a commenter who identifies herself/himself as a "Young Lawyer" makes reference to the "separation of church and state clause", it immediately calls into question the quality of that person's legal education. In the spirit of fraternal correction, I have a duty to correct this Young Lawyer's misunderstanding.

By Yankee on 2012 11 21, 12:02 pm CST

Separation of church and state as it is interpreted by the courts today has nothing much to do with constitutional law other than as a vehicle for members of minority religions, one in particular, to use the law to prevent the great majority of our citizens from worshiping as Christians in a traditional way. It is judge made law. It has virtually nothing to do with our written constitution and is relatively recent in the history of our country.

By Joe on 2012 11 21, 12:10 pm CST

I can't help but wonder how tight the restrictions are. Does he have to go to the same church for all 10 years? If he can change churches, do they have to be in the same city? If he starts attending church elsewhere (i.e. goes to college, gets a job elsewhere), who is going to be verifying that the person signing his "attendance slip" is actually an ordained reglious leader? Is it OK if he starts attending a Church of Satan (just to name one)? Are emergencies or family events taken into account?

By Erik on 2012 11 21, 1:01 pm CST

#15 - What "minority religion" has the power to command the majority of the judiciary for decades?

As we all remember from Con. Law. the "separation of church and state" was an often cited judicial interpretation of the First Amendment that was supposed to prevent the majority religion from using tax dollars to fund the church, related companies, products, advertising, employees, and schools. Our country provides very broad benefits for so-called religious organizations, even if the leaders make a profitable "salary" in the six figures. The main restriction: the Court has tried to prohibit voters from enacting improper government financial assistance that favors the majority religion but uses the the tax dollars of everyone.

Around Christmas, a few people start to huff about store clerks saying "Happy Holidays" and the war on Christianity. Yet, Churches enjoy more financial and social freedom than ever (except they do not publicly execute non-believers anymore). Religious schools and religious home schooling receives more tax benefits than in decades. The government has never closed a church because the godless atheists or the muslims filed a lawsuit.

By AB on 2012 11 21, 1:03 pm CST

So, if I were an atheist, would i get the same more "lenient sentence?" What would my get out of jail free card be? And, if I were an atheist (and the choice was offered to me), isn't it very strong government coercion to offer me a choice between church or getting raped on a regular basis in jail?

This seems like a pretty blatant equal protection violation along with the first amendment issue.

By publius on 2012 11 21, 1:12 pm CST

@4 UncleJed is incorrect.
The followers, who submit to the will of Allah (PBHN) and read the book transcribed by Mohammad (PBHN) do not drink in moderation. It is a total ban on alcoholic drinks.

"Intoxicants and games of chance" are called "abominations of Satan's handiwork," intended to turn people away from God and forget about prayer, and Muslims were ordered to avoid. In addition to this, most observant Muslims refrain from consuming food products that contain pure vanilla extract or soy sauce if these food products contain alcohol; there is some debate about whether the prohibition extends to dishes in which the alcohol would be cooked off or if it would be practically impossible to consume enough of the food to become intoxicated. The Zaidi and Mutazili sects believe that the use of alcohol has always been forbidden and refer to this Qur'an Ayah (4:43) as feeling of sleepiness and not to be awake.

By GeraldShields11 on 2012 11 21, 1:35 pm CST

An obvious violation the separation of church and State, as our Courts have interpreted the 1st Amendment. But so what? One has the right to waive one's Constitutional rights. The article says the boy and his family agreed to the sentence, which was an even more obvious no-brainer.
My bet this sentence would result in less recidivism if imposed regularly. Let the ACLU attorney who tries to challenge this serve the jail sentence the boy gets if this sentence is overturned.

By Realist on 2012 11 21, 1:43 pm CST

As an atheist, trust me that being sentenced to go to church for ten years is a horrible punishment.

That said, the Judge would not be able to order the defendant to go to a particular church, or even a "mainstream church" as that would violate the First Amendment. But I think a "general" rule to attend some type of church would be allowable. We are several Cleveland area Judges that are known for the colorful punishments (in lieu of jail time).

I'd have fun with the Order and attend Wiccan church, do some Zen stuff, maybe be a Satanist for awhile and generally flaunt this dumb requirement of the Court's Order. I mean if attending church, any church regardless of religion made you a good person, the world would be a hell of a lot more peaceful.

By Bmac on 2012 11 21, 1:51 pm CST

I agree with @20 Realist about the possible appeal.

However, the defendant, convicted of manslaughter for killing another human being in an auto accident because the defendant was driving under the influence of alcohol, will likely drive to the place of worship and, depending on the faith, drink the communal wine, then drive back home.

But of course, if you attend drunk and just sit in the pews quietly, the letter of the law of the punishment is satisfied.

Furthermore, I do not want people to think listening to the liturgy of a Church is a punishment. It is intended to make a good person better.

I know the better punishment is to take away driving privileges for 10 years to allow reflection and maturity to take hold.

Sorry, if I offended anyone but I was channeling Mcloed.

By GeraldShields11 on 2012 11 21, 2:01 pm CST

Clearly unconstitutional. Not even a close call. Talk to me again about activist judges? I'm all for alternative sentencing when it seems appropriate, but this is simply a case of bad judgement by a zealot. I believe most jurists have the common sense to recognize that this is an error, but there are certainly a number of jurists, particularly of the elected variety, who are nitwits like this guy.

By DCinsider on 2012 11 21, 2:37 pm CST

Why is the discussion about how unconstitutional this sentence is?

The defendant should thank, what ever misguided power, that will force him to listen to moral sermons of his choice one hour a week for ten years (520 hours total) instead of spending 10 years in jail (87,600 hours total).

The defendant, while in jail, might have to actually do work picking up trash on the road side or make license plates. But, no, the defendant gets to sit in an air-conditioned room and pretend to listen. The defendant could use the time sitting in Church to plan his activities in the next edition of the computer game Grand Theft Auto.

So, what is the moaning about the Constitution?

By GeraldShields11 on 2012 11 21, 2:50 pm CST

@6 YoungLawyer:

OK... let's have it reversed and keep the kid in jail for ten years, where he is going to be humilliated and sodimized among a couple of hundred of other things. After that, he will have problems getting a job and having a normal life.

Personally I think that the judge made sound decission keeping the kid away from jail and saving the spot for a dangerous criminal.

By Foreigner on 2012 11 21, 2:57 pm CST

Some sentence other that a long stretch in jail made sense, given the age of the offender and obvious contrition. Some jurisdictions require driver education classes on conviction for some offences. The judge here thought that the kid did not need driving skills, he needed some moral self-control. Perhaps church was the closest thing to a long-term course in moral philosophy, and where he lived, a good surrogate for community supervision too.

The kid may have been a regular church-goer or brought up in a church, too.

I doubt that the judge would have imposed the sentence on an atheist (that would come close to violating the 'establishment' clause, though as noted, someone can waive one's rights, and attending a church is not as bad as attending jail.) Spending an hour or so a week listening to invocations to an imaginary being is not all that harmful (no worse than playing a lot of computer games with their imaginary powers), and the homilies/sermons/community feeling can deliver constructive messages without regard to the underyling fiction. Just as you don't have to believe in a deity to be a good person, many people who do believe in a deity are good people, and they tend to be on their best behavior when in church - so making the kid spend some time with them in those circumstances is not so bad.

If he's not religiously inclined, he may find 10 years long, but (a) he could spend longer than that in jail, and (b) his passenger will still be dead...

By John G on 2012 11 21, 3:10 pm CST

[ “The Lord works in many ways,” Norman said.]

Maybe, but your superstitions have no place in a court of law.

There are no nuts quite like religious nuts.

By Aloysious on 2012 11 21, 3:17 pm CST

@ 26 John G - Would your opinion that "Spending an hour or so a week listening to invocations to an imaginary being is not all that harmful (no worse than playing a lot of computer games with their imaginary powers), and the homilies/sermons/community feeling can deliver constructive messages without regard to the underyling fiction." change if the defendant, convicted of manslaughter for killing another human being in an auto accident because the defendant was driving under the influence of alcohol, decided to attend sermons at the Church of the SubGenius?

By GeraldShields11 on 2012 11 21, 3:21 pm CST

"Furthermore, I do not want people to think listening to the liturgy of a Church is a punishment. It is intended to make a good person better."

No, it is intended to indoctrinate a person with a particular religious belief. When people voluntarily to that to themselves and their kids, fine. But when a court orders it, it clearly raises constitutional questions. May be, as DCInsider stated, it is not even a close call.

On top of this, it is not likely to be effective in making the kid a "better person." There is no evidence that religious piety leads to more ethical behavior, and in fact there is quite some evidence to the contrary. See Free Inquiry magazine's recent issue on the topic.

This judge sounds like a despicable ignoramus.

By Jennifer on 2012 11 21, 3:25 pm CST

I think Bmac is on to something here. The judge didn't specify *which* church, or even that it be the *same* church. I think the kid should go to a different religious ritual every week for ten years, keep a diary, and publish a book when he's 27. As an athiest, I'd be the first to buy it.

As for the ACLU getting in, I can see two legitimate arguments: (a) challenge a sentence when this judge denies an atheist an identical sentence, but with one hour per week of secular community service replacing church, or (b) if this kid later rejects faith (I was older than 17 when I did), represent him in seeking a modification to (a).

By JD Unbeliever on 2012 11 21, 3:29 pm CST

If the boy and family do not want to pursue a First Amendment suit then won't there be a standing issue for the ACLU trying to pursue this suit unilaterally?

By Jdoc2012 on 2012 11 21, 3:29 pm CST

@ 29 Jennifer - Thanks for disagreeing with one of my sentences in #22. That is fine.

But, do you agree that :

1. The defendent can drive to the place of worship and, depending on the faith, drink the communal wine, then drive back home.

2. The defendent can sit in an air-conditioned room and pretend to listen. The defendant could use the time sitting in Church to plan his activities in the next edition of the computer game Grand Theft Auto.

3. The defendent can decide to attend sermons at the Church of the SubGenius.

4. A better punishment is to take away driving privileges for 10 years to allow reflection and maturity to take hold.

Just my thoughts.

By GeraldShields11 on 2012 11 21, 3:37 pm CST

What John G said is very important:

"The kid may have been a regular church-goer or brought up in a church, too."

Does anybody know the religion background of the kid? Don't you think that the judge should have taken that into account before sentencing?

Little of us know the whole story behind to render an accurate opinion.

By Foreigner on 2012 11 21, 3:41 pm CST

First problem in this discussion is that you are examining it as a constitutional issue rather than looking at it in the context of criminal law. If the offender doesn't appeal his sentence, either in a timely manner or at all, then the ACLU cannot establish standing to challenge his sentence. Second, if he entered a guilty plea, then he almost certainly won't be able to overturn it anyway. Third, it appears to be the result of an agreement between the defendant and the local prosecuting attorney. Finally, in criminal law, voluntariness is required to accept a guilty plea. If the executive director of the ACLU doesn't understand this (and based on his comment, he clearly doesn't), then why is he the executive director in the first place? That may have been the dumbest thing he said in this article.

By Richard Clagg on 2012 11 21, 4:02 pm CST

Dear Commentators,

All of you are missing the point of the very lenient sentence of killing a human being and interjecting the issue of the US Constitution.

If I were the defense attorney in a case and, say, representing Alistair Crowley, who was convicted of manslaughter for killing another human being in an auto accident because he was driving under the influence of alcohol. If the the judge ordered Alistair Crowley attend church for 10 years as part of a deferred prison sentence for manslaughter, I would say TAKE THE DEAL.

Because it is 520 hours of your life in a pleasant air-conditioned room and if you want to protect your bottom from the hard wood pews then just bring a comfy pillow.

If you go to prison for 10 years, then you my not be able to use a comfy pillow to protect your bottom.

By GeraldShields11 on 2012 11 21, 4:05 pm CST

A very bad precedent. This type of creative sentencing is a violation of the separation of church and state. Even worse, it demeans those who worship voluntarily-- church as punishment? Bad stuff.

By 60 acres on 2012 11 21, 4:12 pm CST

I recommend that young Mr. Alred visit the website for the Universalist Life Church, send them a few bucks to get himself ordained as a minister, charter his bedroom at home as a church and then insist he's in full compliance with the sentence's requirement.

Judge Norman might or might not be able to require some undefined form of religious activity as a sentence reduction requirement -- much as he could sentence a drunk driver to AA meetings even though AA's 12 step program requires "higher power" recognition. But he'd be well over the line if he insists that "attendance" be at a "Christian" church.

By AndytheLawyer on 2012 11 21, 4:32 pm CST

Perhaps in this case the Judge exercised the wisdom of Solomon. Don't tell the ACLU!

By hadley V. Baxendale on 2012 11 21, 4:48 pm CST

The fact that the defendant agreed to it doesn't seem to be much of a justification, to my eyes. If the choice is giving up an hour a week on Sunday vs. prison time, a lot of people would agree to it. While this one might swear up and down that he was never coerced and that he genuinely wants to "see the light" or whatever, we have no particular reason to take his word for it. Or the word of the next person who says the same thing because that's part of the deal.

Out of curiosity, is there any requirement that he be awake in church, or exercise any kind of decorum there? Does he have to sit in a pew, take communion, do the peace handshake, not listen to music on his iPod? So many details.

By Random Guy on 2012 11 21, 5:07 pm CST

All the comments so far were interesting to read. It is fun reading so many different opinions without any fights. Because religion is involved I was almost sure someone would start flipping out.

I think people are misunderstanding the issue here. This was obviously a better sentence for him than jail. Yet, although I'm sure the judge checked up on the legality of this sentencing it still, for me, has an odd ring to it. Many good point have been brought about equal rights. Will an atheist have the same ability to receive such a sentence? It's an interesting topic!

Also, for those that are saying it is degrading to those that voluntarily attend Church I cannot see where you're coming from. A religous service is for all that are willing, if not willing, than wouldn't you want the chance to show your point of view on the matter (in this case of your religion)?

By Joshua Neuman on 2012 11 21, 5:10 pm CST

Dear Randon Guy,

See # 22 and # 32.

By GeraldShields11 on 2012 11 21, 5:11 pm CST

In this case, opinions really don't matter. The law is settled that a judge can't order someone to attend church. Period. End of discussion. If no one appeals, it looks like he will attend church. The interesting thing is what happens if the defendant decides to skip church down the line.

By Johnnyd on 2012 11 21, 5:41 pm CST

#42 -- Or to "convert" to a religion without churches.

By AndytheLawyer on 2012 11 21, 6:00 pm CST

“I know the boy agreed to this, but is someone facing a judge in open court really making a voluntary decision? Government officials should not be involved in what is a very personal choice.”

Wow, I didn't realized the judge's decision not to give a convicted defendant a sentence (allowable by law) was some kind of personal choice. Regardless of the choice that the young man made, the judge could have sentenced him. Thus, the ability for the young man to select prison or to select the alternate was a choice. In all my readings and experiences, that is a voluntary decision. If the young man had an aversion to the school or church requirements, he could appeal (another choice). But he has stated he will not.

Seems the judge is helping to keep another young person out of the grips of jail, which is the goal here.

By MMM Y on 2012 11 21, 6:09 pm CST

Random Guy- I would guess that the population in Oklahoma is primarily Christian but your view is dead on.

By RG on 2012 11 21, 6:39 pm CST

Let me guess, White kid?

By Matt Helm on 2012 11 21, 6:49 pm CST

Judge Norman is a fine judge, though I will admit I find the sentencing in this case odd. Having said that, it is a preferable sentence to going to prison which would ruin this teenager's life.


More than likely, given the population of the state where this happened, the kid probably has a CDIB.

By OKBankLaw on 2012 11 21, 7:25 pm CST

I wonder if any of the commentators have ever defended someone in a criminal case. Well, I have and the goal is to keep my client out of prison. Even if I am a devout atheist, I could care less if the judge required my client to go to a religious service of any kind for 10 years. That young man was probably thanking his lucky stars (or dare I say God) that he did not get what he deserved, which in "eye-for-eye" terms, is much worse than prison.

By Real Attorney on 2012 11 21, 7:41 pm CST

@real attorney

First of all, amusing name. Second, I do not think anyone here can argue that 10 years of church attendance is in far better than a prison sentence. No one is arguing that, the real question is the legality of the sentence itself.

By Joshua Neuman on 2012 11 21, 7:45 pm CST

When it comes to considering challenges to this, wouldn't we really have to look at the specifics of the entire ruling? It's hardly like the judge out of nowhere came up with this on a whim. I'm guessing it was arrived at after negotiations/discussions with/between the prosecution, defendant, and family (who will likely have to drive the kid to wherever he must attend, so this is a windfall for them, too, since they are already going to church, most likely).

If the defendant were an avowed teen atheist, I'm guessing the judge would have ordered him to do something else that was acceptable to the defendant's views. The only reason we have something to talk about was that the judge made a ruling intended only for this specific defendant, not society as a whole. And, theoretically, as a judge he should be applying the law, not making it. He's not even an Appeals or Supreme Court judge.

Now, if the judge had been thinking about broader Constitutional issues and media attention, instead of just approving a sentence that was likely acceptable to all parties involved, he would have added "--or equivalent regularly scheduled group meeting" just to cover his butt. Also, it would have made things easier if the kid after some time decides to reject his religion, denomination, or even just that particular congregation.

By Scales on 2012 11 21, 7:57 pm CST

1. The sentence is illegal.
2. Even were the sentence lawful, there is no practical way to monitor compliance.
3. There is something peculiar about mandating church attendance as a form of "punishment," although many people would likely argue that it is indeed punishment, and cruel and unusual at that.
4. Were this kid a Catholic, could the court have ordered him to go to confession at least once a month and take communion at Mass each Sunday? How about mandating that he say the rosary daily?
Regardless of the court's intentions, and everyone's agreement to the terms of the sentence, it will be of no particular benefit to either society or the defendant.

By Mike Appleton on 2012 11 21, 8:43 pm CST


so.. in your opinion the judge should have thrown the kid in jail instead?

By Foreigner on 2012 11 21, 8:47 pm CST

This was a DUI homicide. Yes there should have been some actual punishment. Minimum jail time followed by community service would have been appropriate.

By Mike Appleton on 2012 11 21, 8:59 pm CST


so you are convinced that prision has only a vindictive purpose and not to re-socialize the wrongdoer?

By Foreigner on 2012 11 21, 9:06 pm CST

Not at all. Prison has no reformative qualities in my opinion. That's why I favor short sentences in most instances. However, community service can be very beneficial, especially for youthful offenders, many of whom have never had a great deal of structure or discipline and know nothing of the value of teamwork or the sense of accomplishment that can come from the successful completion of useful projects. (I'm not talking about picking up trash along the highway.)

By Mike Appleton on 2012 11 21, 9:21 pm CST

I still don't know why the discussion of posts is still based on the merits of a First Amendment suit when the real issue is standing. The boy and parents have no problem with the sentence so what injury has the ACLU suffered? None! Talking about the merits of this case is only an academic pursuit.

By jdoc2012 on 2012 11 21, 9:47 pm CST

If so, where do you think the kid would have a better chance to reform? Wouldn't you say that in a place of prayer and worship he would have better chances?

By Foreigner on 2012 11 21, 9:50 pm CST

Not necessarily. Regular church attendance in and of itself is not evidence of a virtuous life. Our common experience teaches that. Furthermore, no belief system, religious or otherwise, is effective unless it is voluntarily and intelligently embraced, and thereafter applied in everyday life. Finally, the phrase "place of prayer and worship" means different things to different people. Christianity is not a religion; it is a family of religions possessing a vast range of theologies, liturgies, customs and values.

By Mike Appleton on 2012 11 21, 10:41 pm CST


I acknowledge that not all churchgoers are examples of morality and civility.

However, since you acknowledged that prision has no reformative qualities at all, regardless the limitations you mentioned, chances are better at a church.

Unless, of course, you think that churches don't have any reformative qualities either.

By Foreigner on 2012 11 21, 10:51 pm CST

A short prison sentence temporarily eliminates personal freedom and provides a reminder that there are adverse consequences for illegal conduct. That is its only useful purpose in my view. This kid is 17 years old, no longer a child, but not yet an adult. Simply ordering him to go listen to a preacher once a week for ten years will accomplish nothing internally unless he wants it to. I suspect he agreed to the sentence solely to avoid jail. Who wouldn't?

By Mike Appleton on 2012 11 21, 11:08 pm CST

@51 ". . . confession at least once a month . . ."

If the young man were Catholic confession once a month would have been very beneficial.

By Yankee on 2012 11 21, 11:35 pm CST

I wonder how the judge would respond if the kid wanted to attend a mosque.

By Redwood on 2012 11 21, 11:38 pm CST

Redwood @ 62: The judge should consider that a win-win situation. Adherents of Islam aren't supposed to drink at all; and they have a "zero tolerance" policy towards apostasy for men.

By BMF on 2012 11 22, 12:37 am CST

@ BMF maybe you are onto something - require all drunk drivers to convert to Islam.

By Redwood on 2012 11 22, 1:17 am CST

Hey, I get to say "Duh!" in this thread too!

Why do so many commenters believe that there is no such thing as a sentence other than ten years in church or many years in prison?
Probably, not a single commentator has ever claimed that bizarre idea til now.

I think the ACLU guy near the end of the article put his finger on it - he's right that the illegality of the sentence isn't a matter in dispute now, but if it is then civil liberties advocates will have their say.

I think "Esq. in Austin" #3 has a point that many of us ignore - if we're conservative, then we want either to see the kid pay dearly (probably forfeiting his chance ever to build a real future), so as not to insult the victim's memory, or to see the kid repent and reform (in as religious a way as possible), so as not to insult God's love for sinners. Two opposite results: harsh punishment or merciful God.
Which one does such a conservative pick? It depends on whether we're atheist or not. Duh!
(I count churchgoers of any religion as atheist if they do not believe in forgiveness and love.)

The real challenge is for those of us who aren't guided by conservative principles. Liberals are bound to feel torn over a story like this. I don't notice any satisfaction in the liberal-sounding comments.

By Avon on 2012 11 22, 1:38 am CST

The decision for the judge was much easier than anyone here is making it. After seeing the defendant and the victim's father hug tearfully, the judge said, "At that moment, it sure became a reality to me that I would sentence this boy to church .... There’s nothing I can do to make this up to the family."

The victim's sister, Caitlin, said, “We don’t need to see two lives wasted for a mistake.”

Bumps: 1, 8, and 30.

By emm on 2012 11 22, 2:02 am CST

And was his agreement voluntary just because the alternative is particularly unpleasant? If it wasn't then all plea bargains are involuntary and therefore invalid and unenforceable.

By TimT on 2012 11 22, 5:11 pm CST

A person is dead and I fail to see how sentencing someone to church for ten years is adequate punishment. Putting that aside the term "separation of church and state" was first used by Thomas Jefferson as shorthand for what the Constitution does say "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;..." The 14th Amendment extends the terms of the First Amendment to the states. By sentencing someone to church attendance the judge is engaging in establishing a religion. From the point of view of the defendant it may be preferable to prison, but I fail to see how it gives the decedent or his family justice, or acts as a deterrent to others. Particularly as that portion of the sentence is uneforceable if the defendant violates that provision.

By George Sly on 2012 11 22, 7:09 pm CST

@68 You proclaim: "A person is dead and I fail to see how sentencing someone to church for ten years is adequate punishment."

1. Church attendance is only one part of this sentence for involuntary manslaughter. Other parts include: Graduate high school; Graduate from welding school; Take drug and alcohol assessment and submit to drug, alcohol and nicotine tests for a year; Wear a drug and alcohol bracelet; and Take part in victim’s impact panels;

2. Although what the Defendant did was inexcusable, the victim was a friend of the Defendant, and no doubt his death broke the Defendant's heart and who will have to live with that for the rest of his life. Further, the victim died as result of being ejected from the vehicle after a car crash; he had not been wearing his seatbelt. Had he been wearing a seatbelt, there would have been no story to report here.

3. Although the Defendant's blood alcohol count was between 0.06/0.07 - - - less than the legal limit for Oklahoma - - - a lower limit was applied because the Defendant was just 16 years old.

4. Apparently, despite the circumstances that suggest that a sentence other than prison is the best choice among the alternatives presented, your lack of respect for the religious values shared by the families of the Defendant and Victim and that bind this small community together, have blinded you with such rage that you would rather see this teenager spend time in the state penitentiary with hardened criminals, than taking a more measured and Defendant/Victim/Community-specific approach. Pathetic.

By Yankee on 2012 11 23, 6:52 pm CST

At Yankee: Well-said. What I glean most from these comments is neither a concern for the lack of justice in our criminal system nor a genuine academic discussion about our Constitution. Most of these comments (though not all) demonstrate an utter disregard for the facts of this case and the personal views of these families that the judge took into consideration when crafting this young man's sentence. The defendant has to live with the fact that his irresponsible actions led to his friend's death. I can only imagine that the guilt of such a situation would be punishment enough.

By Real Attorney on 2012 11 23, 7:57 pm CST


I don't disagree with your basic premise, but Muskogee isn't THAT small. I mean, its no New York, but there are 38,000+ people living there, it's home to the Eastern District of Oklahoma, and it featured in a 1969 Merl Haggard song.

To directly address those who are complaining about the sentence, the judge actually gave a 10 year deferred sentence, and as one of the conditions for the deferral, as Yankee properly pointed out one of MANY conditions, was regular church attendance during the 10 year period. Saying the sentence was 10 years of church attendance is fundamentally inaccurate.

By OKBankLaw on 2012 11 26, 4:07 am CST

Hell froze over the day I agreed with Yankee on anything.

Sherbet, anyone?

By Tom Youngjohn on 2012 11 26, 4:29 am CST

@71 I stand corrected on my reference to Muskogee and its 38,000 souls as a "small community" deferring as I should to you and Mr. Haggard.

By Yankee on 2012 11 26, 11:20 am CST

I gotta stick up for my state after all.

By OKBankLaw on 2012 11 26, 4:06 pm CST

Curious to know whether this teenager was the color of the U.S. citizen majority, i.e., caucasian.

By Satisfied on 2012 11 26, 5:57 pm CST

@75 If race is an important consideration for you in the administration of just, you can see a photo of the young man at the ABC News link embedded in the story above.

By Yankee on 2012 11 26, 6:40 pm CST

I'm not sure I buy the "church as punishment" criticism to this sentence. One totally appropriate use of church is as a venue to examine your moral character, in part because it gives you a framework to compare it to, and resources to help you understand that framework. Regardless of whether you are currently a believer, or even whether you ever wind up becoming one, choosing to reflect upon your morality in a positive environment rather than prison does not seem like punishment; rather, a fighting chance. Nobody ever said that he has to accept the teachings of the church he attends.

Also, to any atheists who detest conceptually the notion that one would be mandated to attend a house of worship (when there is no option for an atheist), don't you think that a person ought to understand what he/she is disagreeing with? Further, can you not accept that attending a structured service might help a person who is morally lost begin to think about his/her morality (I say "morally lost" not because he/she is an atheist, but because he/she committed a crime that evinces a deficiency in his/her moral thought process). Again, there is no requirement or expectation that he/she convert. I have plenty of atheist friends who attend church services with religious friends with no expectation or desire to convert or be converted. Futher, I have attended services of my friends' religions, even when I am of a different faith. It is important to consider the principles being discussed, even if you are not as interested in the theology.

I think it is an interesting issue whether or not this is "fair" to this defendant (or hypothetical future defendants). However, the more important, yet less considered issue is whether this sentence is fair to the victim, future hypothetical victims, and society as a whole. For this issue, I am not sure how I feel. But it strikes me that this might be a better alternative than prison for young or first time offenders. I just don't know. It would be interesting to hear from a criminologist or sociologist on the subject.

By Not so sure on 2012 11 26, 9:23 pm CST

Comment removed by moderator.

By Tom Youngjohn on 2012 11 26, 10:00 pm CST

"I see," said the blind man who picked up the hammer and "saw." Thanks, Yankee. It makes one wonder, doesn't it?

By Satisfied on 2012 11 26, 10:14 pm CST

@Tom Youngjohn

You make a valid point; but I don't think anyone is saying that no jail time is "bad" for the defendant. I think most people here have an issue with whether or not something like this should be, or legally is or isn't, allowed.

Along with the normal issues with something like this what about equal rights? If someone a religous person can you force them to attend a religous building? Does this not go against the first amendment? I'm not saying this point of view is correct but as we all know our system is partly common law, and issues such as these can open doors we never meant to open.

By Joshua Neuman on 2012 11 26, 10:15 pm CST

@77 Thank you for your good observations. A couple further thoughts:

1. In the article above, the issue was not framed as "church as punishment." Rather, the issue was framed as "church as punishment" by several of the commenters who did not agree with Judge Norman.

In the article, above, church attendance was described correctly simply as being part of the Defendant's sentence. SInce 'punishment' is only one part of the purpose of criminal justice - - - rehabilitation another part - - - I would put church attendance in the latter rehabilitation bucket.

2. In addition to the good benefits associated with church attendance that you identified in your comment, I would add as a benefit an additional layer of accountability to the community. I am sure that the Defendant's fellow congregants will take an interest in his well being and making him a better person than he otherwise might be.

By Yankee on 2012 11 26, 10:30 pm CST

Maybe he was forced to go to Church in the first place, which led him to drinking... so the cycle will continue...what a mess...very karmic.

By Karma on 2012 11 26, 11:52 pm CST

I am anything but religious. I think religion, including "morality" inherently connected to religion should be kept out of the law all together.

Still this strikes me as only being a policy issue, not a constitutional or legal one. I don't like that the judge would do this (which essentially means if the kid has to choose between church or jail) but that is based on policy. Legally there is no question to me that the judge can do this. A Judge has inherent authority to give any sentence not proscribed by law. And judges are not, at least on the text, bound by the First Amendment. I'm sure there are cases out there that say otherwise, I think Citizens United might be one of them though it is was in dicta, but there is no basis for that in the text of the First Amendment which clearly says "CONGRESS shall make no law..." That should foreclose any argument that this is unconstitutional regardless of how poor it is from a policy perspective.

By Matt on 2012 11 26, 11:59 pm CST

Josh, I think that this issue would be a real big deal if the defendants' parents had significantly different religious backgrounds, or if one of the parents was an atheist. But, if they were all from the same religious background. Wait.... Funny.... If the parents were smart, educated, Western Buddhist converts, they would probably object to FORCING their child to go to their Buddhist temple, even being smart, devoted, Western converts to Buddhism. (That's the beauty of the Dharma/Dhamma). Whatever. I still like this judge's ruling. Maybe not from a US Constitutional perspective, but then I'm not a Supreme Court justice.

By Tom Youngjohn on 2012 11 27, 2:01 am CST

@81 Yankee, thank you for your response. On your first point, I should have specified that I meant the criticism found in the comments, not the article. On your second point, I could not agree more.

Somewhere along the way, our notion of community started to deteriorate. I think that is a problem. Generally speaking, I think we rely too much on systems and not enough on concepts like community and personal responsibility. I really do believe that what you are saying in your second point is true -- that "the Defendant’s fellow congregants will take an interest in his well being and making him a better person than he otherwise might be." They would. No doubt. And you absolutely cannot say the same thing about the prison system or the Defendant's fellow inmates.

By Not so sure on 2012 11 27, 2:58 pm CST

Add a Comment

We welcome your comments, but please adhere to our comment policy.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.