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Is Church Attendance an Appropriate Criminal Sentence? E-mail
Written by Don Byrd   
Monday, 26 November 2012

The New York Times looks into a controversial Oklahoma judge, who is under fire for sentencing juvenile offenders to church attendance. Most recently, Tyler Alred, a minor charged with vehicular manslaughter was ordered to attend church regularly for 10 years as a part of his probation.

Mr. Alred told the court that he was happy to agree to church attendance and other mandates — including that he finish high school and train as a welder, and shun alcohol, drugs and tobacco for a year. By doing so, he is avoiding a 10-year prison sentence and has a chance to make a fresh start.

But his acquiescence does not change the law, Mr. Kiesel and others pointed out. “Alternative sentencing is something that should be encouraged, but there are many options that don’t violate the Constitution,” Mr. Kiesel said. “A choice of going to prison or to church — that is precisely the type of coercion that the First Amendment seeks to prevent.”

Making a person choose between prison and church would seem to be the ultimate coercion. In addition, Mr. Alred apparently already was a regular church attendant when he committed the offense, a fact Judge Norman confessed he was unaware.

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