Oklahoma Municipal Court stops coerced prayer (May 5, 2020)

Juveniles who appear before the Grove Municipal Court will no longer be coerced into praying and memorizing bible quotes by Judge Richard James.

A local resident who was recently in James’ courtroom informed FFRF that during a regular session of his court, James hosted a panel of religious leaders in the courtroom. He reportedly had a table set up at the front of the room with several Christian chaplains seated at it. After entering the courtroom, James introduced each chaplain by name and said they were there so people could live correctly based on “what the Lord says.” He told those present that “we use them instead of fines, if the offenders choose them.”

The complainant reported that as juvenile offenders came before James, he would conduct a normal judicial hearing that he concluded by giving them a choice: pay civil fines and do community service or learn chapters from the bible and the Ten Commandments. If the juvenile offender chose the latter, James directed them to the panel of Christian chaplains who gave them religious materials for memorization.

FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line filed an ethics complaint on James, pointing out that coercing juvenile offenders to support or participate in any religious exercise is a serious violation of their civil liberties.

“Giving juvenile offenders the option to study the bible and Ten Commandments rather than civil fines or community service appears to any reasonable observer an endorsement of Christianity,” Line wrote. “This is exactly the type of government endorsement of, and entanglement with, religion that is prohibited by our Constitution.”

The Oklahoma Council on Judicial Complaints informed FFRF in a letter of response that, going forward, “any option for offenders to select memorization over another form of punishment will exclusively feature secular texts for such memorization.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation