FFRF sent a letter Nov. 3 to Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange objecting to a proposed sentencing program in Bay Minette, Ala., that would let offenders serve time in church instead of jail. After FFRF objected to Police Chief Mike Rowland’s unconstitutional scheme in September, the city sought an official opinion from the Attorney General’s Office on the legality of the jail diversion program, called “Operation ROC: Restore Our Community.”
Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote: “On its face, it should be obvious that giving special treatment to offenders who attend church services is coercive and unconstitutional. The city admits in its own documents that Operation ROC penalizes those who do not participate in the program. The program seeks to push church attendance on offenders and calls for continued government surveillance of offender participation.”
Participating Pastor Robert Gates, Police Department chaplain, would be in charge, according to the police chief: “The oversight will be Pastor Gates. Pastor Gates will be the probation officer for God, you might say. He, Pastor Gates, will be the one the offenders will report to. The offenders will not be calling the church to say that they are not coming to church. They will have to call Pastor Gates and let him know, if for some reason they miss.”
The proposal is currently on hold.