Blogs » On the Docket » Should sitting in a pew be a punishment?


Updated at 6 p.m.: An Oklahoma judge thought Jesus was the answer for a 17-year-old convicted of driving under the influence manslaughter. Now, the American Civil Liberties Union is calling for the judge to get a punishment of his own — for what they call a First Amendment violation.

The New York Times is reporting that Judge Mike Norman, 67, sentenced Tyler Alred in November to attend church regularly for 10 years as part of his probation.

"Only time will tell if we’ve saved Tyler Alred’s life," Norman said in an ABC article.

Alred, whose family already goes to church, didn't have a problem with it (and neither does the family of the victim), but the ACLU says that's besides the point.

"I know the boy agreed to this, but is someone facing a judge in open court really making a voluntary decision?" said Ryan Kissell, the group's Oklahoma branch executive director. "Government officials should not be involved in what is a very personal choice."

Rev. Bruce Prescott, executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, was worried meanwhile about what would happen if Alred decided to change faiths.

"Will he be allowed to switch to a mosque or become an atheist?" Prescott asked in a Religion News Services article.

The ACLU filed a complaint about the punishment last week, according to the Tulsa World.

While I'm in no way saying that being required to attend church is cruel and unusual, it does appear that Norman is not alone when it comes to getting creative during the sentencing process.

In other communities, judges opt to humiliate offenders. In 2007, Florida judge Peter Miller made those convicted of theft stand outside the store they pilfered with a sign letting passersby know about their criminal history, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Only three people have reportedly repeat offended after Miller mandated they carry a sign.

"I don't like having to pay for a thief taking something, and I don't think anybody else does either," said Miller, noting people often take the things they don't need, such as DVDs, video games and clothes.

Other judges meanwhile go great lengths to make a point without involving the big house.

In 2008, Judge Susan Fornof-Lippencott offered to cut a 24-year-old man's $150 fine for blasting loud rap music in his car to $35 if he agreed to listen to 20 hours of Beethoven, Chopin, and Bach, the Associated Press reported.

Fornof-Lippencott told the AP she wanted him to "know how it felt to listen to music he didn't enjoy."

The man lasted 15 minutes before he had to go to basketball practice. He paid the full $150.

Do you think Norman should have handed down this sentence?