The citizens of Bay Minette, Alabama (population 7,700), believe they may have come up with a way to save money and maybe mend the wicked ways of some of their local yokels in the process. The town has developed an action plan to divert small-time criminals away from the penal system and toward a life of holy happiness.
The plan is called "Restore Our Community," and it's primary innovation in the criminal justice system is to offer misdemeanor offenders a choice of punishments. Those who are found to be eligible for the program can select an alternative to going to jail and/or paying a fine. The choice: attending church on a weekly basis for one year.
In justifying this unique program, Mike Rowland, the local chief of police, said that one day in the jail costs local government seventy-five dollars. (Chief Rowland needs to get in contact with Sheriff Joe Arpaio out in Arizona. Old Joe has cut his costs down to just pennies a day per inmate! Obviously Bay Minette lavishes too many luxuries on their incarcerated criminals!)
Fifty-six area churches have signed up to be part of the new alternative-sentencing program in Bay Minette. People who select church as their punishment may choose from the list of participating churches. Those churches will keep and verify attendance for the court. No word yet on whether there are any mosques or Jewish temples participating in the program - or if will it be a "Jesus-only" option.
Back in the day when I was a young man oozing spit and vinegar, some judges would give offenders the choice of going to jail or to the military. That might have actually been more humane than forcing a young person who made a mistake to spend a whole year listening to some Bible-thumping cracker belch fire and brimstone while begging for money.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama is in court trying to block this egregious mixing of church and state. The town of Bay Minette is arguing that they are not entwining church and state, but just offering a choice. It will soon be up to the courts and God to sort it all out.
One is left to wonder just how a small town with fifty-six churches could have any crime at all?