Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The ACLU and Sentencing the Guilty to Church

We regularly sentence the guilty to drug programs and secular counseling in lieu of jail. Is there any substantive difference in sentencing them to the church of their choice? Not according to an Alabama town:

• Starting this week, under a new program called Operation ROC (Restore Our Community), local judges in Bay Minette, Alabama, will give those found guilty of misdemeanors the choice of serving out their time in jail, paying a fine or attending church each Sunday for a year. The goal of the program is to help steer those who are not yet hardened criminals the chance to turn their lives around. Those who choose to go to church (there are no mosques or synagogues in the area) will have to check in with a pastor and the police department each week, CNN affiliate WKRG reported. Once you attend church every week for a year the case would be dismissed.

Although such sentencing will cause outcries of “violation of church/state separation,” this form of rehabilitation might be the best one. Actually, this is the claim of many Christian groups that work with the criminal population. Interestingly, while secular drug programs have a high rate of recidivism, Christian programs like Teen Challenge boast a significantly lower rate. According to one source, secular drug programs,

• only have an average long-term (non-recidivist) success rate of 6-7%, compared to Teen Challenge's 86% [who didn’t recidivate].

If this is true, then sentencing to a secular program, while the sentencing option of the Christian Teen Challenge is available, would be both morally and professionally irresponsible. It also bears noting that Christian programs characteristically have a strong moral component, which teaches directly against criminal behavior – the very thing that the courts should require but don’t always receive.

Prison Fellowship, a Christian program that works with the incarcerated, also can boast impressive results:

The program in Texas was studied by the University of Pennsylvania, which confirmed a study by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The studies showed that those who graduated from the program had a 17 percent re-arrest rate and an 8 percent re-incarceration rate after two years. That's a pretty dramatic decrease in recidivism.

It is dramatic, considering that “Recidivism rates are staggering. Two-thirds of inmates will be re-arrested within three years of their release.”

However, it didn’t take long for the ACLU in Alabama to declare that sentencing to church is "blatantly unconstitutional":

• "It violates one basic tenet of the Constitution, namely that government can’t force participation in religious activity," Olivia Turner, executive director for the ACLU of Alabama told the paper.

But does it? Rather than excluding Christianity from the public market place, the Separation Clause was intended to insure that our faith would not be subject to governmental interference. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story III commented in 1883 in section 1871 of his Commentaries on the U.S. Constitution,

• The real object of the amendment was, not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment, which should give to a hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government. It thus cut off the means of religious persecution (the vice and pest of former ages) and of the subversion of the rights of conscience in matters of religion…

Among the Founding Fathers – many of whom weren’t Christian – Christianity was clearly privileged. Vanderbilt professor of political science and law, Carol M. Swain, wrote,

• Scholars like Hatch and Noll argue that the founders understood from the very beginning that the new country was to be a Christian nation. Christianity, in its various denominational forms, became the unofficial religion of the nation. (Be the People, 32)

To eliminate Christian service providers in favor of the secular ones is therefore not only against the spirit of the constitution, it is also discriminatory. The secularist ACLU has no problem with the establishment and government funding of secular counseling programs. These are no less religious than Christian programs. They too promote their beliefs and values – humankind is the measure of all things and not God, self-esteem is promoted in favor of sober self-assessment, unconditional-positive-regard in favor of loving straight-talk and moral correction, trust in self in favor of trust in God, client-centeredness in favor of God-centeredness, self-fulfillment in favor of social responsibility.

Why are such interventions not considered religious in nature? Well, they just aren’t! Why not? Because secularists and humanists have gained the upper hand and are setting the rules for engagement, even if they are hypocritical!

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