The ultimate get-out-of-jail card, an unusual sentencing plan that lets some offenders in an Alabama town replace jail time with a year of church, has been put on hold, reports the Huffington Post. The plan, dubbed “Jesus or Jail” by Time magazine and CNN, has stirred vehement protests from the American Civil Liberties Union.
According to a letter to officials in Bay Minette, Ala., the ACLU said the scheme “ ‘flagrantly’ violates the separation of church and state.” The Huffington Post article added:
“The faith-based Operation Restore Our Community program, the brainchild of area church leaders, offers first-time, nonviolent offenders the option of attending the house of worship of their choice each week for a year instead of receiving jail time or other punishments.”
One reason cited for the plan is to cut incarceration costs. Bay Minette Mayor Jamie Tillery said a “menu of options” would be available at the judge’s discretion, including community service, but the ACLU insists that church not be one of those choices, reports ABC News. Olivia Turner, executive director of ACLU Alabama, said the “government can’t force participation in religious activity,” according to a CNN article.
There are no synagogues or mosques around the area, and with secular options unlcear, offenders currently would choose from among the 56 local churches that have agreed to this program, reported TIME. The article continued,
“If offenders pick church, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee eternal salvation, but they can check in each week with the pastor or the police department. If the program is completed successfully their case will be dropped.”