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Church attendance an unconstitutional sentence?

Charlie Butts   ( Thursday, December 06, 2012

The ACLU has filed a complaint against an Oklahoma judge for sentencing a 17-year-old to ten years of church attendance. But one attorney feels "there's more here than meets the eye."

Muskogee County District Judge Mike Norman presided over the case of Tyler Alred -- the driver in an alcohol-related accident that killed his 16-year-old passenger. Church attendance was extended as a condition of probation, and the American Civil Liberties Union is crying foul.

Staver, Mat (Liberty Counsel)Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel tells OneNewsNow a judge has to be careful with issuing such a sentence because problems could arise.

"The ACLU's complaint has some obvious truth in it," he admits. "But on the other hand, there may be some other matters that ultimately justify why the judge chose this particular route." For example, a church could have a program successful with turning troubled youth around, or a drug/alcohol program that has proven value.

But Staver points out that the ACLU omits that type of information because "they want to sensationalize this entire issue." Meanwhile, he stresses that prison does not usually reform people, so judges are turning to alternative methods of addressing crime.

"This may be certainly one of those areas depending upon all the facts of the circumstances, and obviously here we've got someone who is not disagreeing with this particular sentence, is actually voluntarily going along with it," the Liberty Counsel founder notes. "So, there's more here than meets the eye with regards to the ACLU's media press release."

The ACLU's complaint states in part that Judge Norman violated Oklahoma's Code of Judicial Conduct, which requires judges to "uphold and apply the law." So, he supposedly disregarded fundamental principles of religious liberty found in the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, as well as guarantees of religious liberty found in the state's constitution.

The liberal legal group hopes its action against Judge Norman's decision will discourage other judges from issuing similar rulings.

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