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Alabama town to offenders: Go to church or go to jail

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The small town of Bay Minette, Alabama is telling people convicted of small crimes to choose Jesus or choose jail.

Starting this week, the city judge will implement Operation Restore Our Community (ROC), which gives misdemeanor offenders a choice between fines and jail or a year of Sunday church services.

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“Operation ROC resulted from meetings with church leaders,” Bay Minette Police Chief Mike Rowland told the Alabama Press-Register. “It was agreed by all the pastors that at the core of the crime problem was the erosion of family values and morals. We have children raising children and parents not instilling values in young people.”

Critics charge that the program is unfair to some minority religious groups because of the 56 participating churches, none are mosques or synagogues. And Atheists have no choice but compromise their beliefs or go to jail.

Pastor Robert Gates told WRKG that the program was a win-win for everyone involved.

“You show me somebody who falls in love with Jesus, and I’ll show you a person who won’t be a problem to society,” he said.

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ACLU of Alabama director Olivia Turner called the policy “blatantly unconstitutional.”

“It violates one basic tenet of the Constitution, namely that government can’t force participation in religious activity,” she said, adding that the ACLU is “considering options for response.”

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Think Progress’ Ian Millhiser noted that the program would even be considered illegal under conservative Justice Antonin Scalia’s view of the Constitution.

“In his dissenting opinion in Lee v. Weisman, Scalia wrote that the state may not use the ‘threat of penalty’ to ‘coerce anyone to support or participate in religion or its exercise,'” Millhiser wrote. “Telling someone — even someone convicted of a crime — that they must participate in a religious service or go to jail clearly fails Justice Scalia’s test.”

Earlier this year, the Mississippi Supreme Court suspended Mississippi Justice Court Judge Theresa Brown Dearman for 30 days for forcing people charged with crimes to attend church as a condition of bail.

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Watch this video from WKRG, broadcast Sept. 22, 2011.

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Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We’ve launched a weekly podcast, “We’ve Got Issues,” focused on issues, not tweets. Unlike other news sites, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.

Raw Story is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. We’re not part of a conglomerate, or a project of venture capital bros. From unflinching coverage of racism, to revealing efforts to erode our rights, Raw Story will continue to expose hypocrisy and harm. Unhinged from corporate overlords, we fight to ensure no one is forgotten.

We need your support to keep producing quality journalism and deepen our investigative reporting. Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Invest with us in the future. Make a one-time contribution to Raw Story Investigates, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.



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Before Trump eyed Greenland: Here’s what happened last time the US bought a large chunk of the Arctic

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Editor’s note: Reports that President Donald Trump has urged aides to look into buying Greenland make us think of the last time the United States bought a major territory in the Arctic: the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867. Two years ago, we asked William L. Iggiagruk Hensley, a visiting professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, to write about that historic sale.

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CNN’s Jake Tapper confronts Trump adviser Navarro with long list of experts calling him a disaster

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In a highly contentious interview on CNN's "State of the Union", host Jake Tapper confronted Donald Trump's top economic adviser, Peter Navarro, with a seemingly endless list of economists, analysts and business publications who believe he and his economic advice have both been a disaster and that he is not being straight with the public.

After refusing multiple times to concede that President Donald Trump's trade war -- and accompanying tariffs -- are having any effect on an economy that many financial prognosticators believe is headed towards a recession, Tapper confronted the White House adviser with the list of his critics -- including the Wall Street Journal.

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Internet goes wild over ‘obviously drunk’ Larry Kudlow on Fox News: ‘He’s lying while slurring his words’

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Speculation was rampant on Sunday that White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow was drunk on Fox News.

"There is no economic recession in sight," Kudlow insisted to Fox News Sunday host Dana Perino.

Twitter, however, was buzzing about Kudlow's speech patterns instead of his questionable economic optimism.

"Pretty sure Larry Kudlow is drunk on my TV right now... And he is lying while slurring his words," one Twitter user noted.

"Kudlow is on fox news Sunday right now and from my 30 yrs of tending bar, I gotta say this guy appears drunk," another user observed.

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