Oklahoma Judge Sentences Teen to Church for 10 Years?

image of a guy behind bars with text Church or Jail on top of it

Oklahoma District Court Judge Mike Norman sentenced a teen offender to attend church as part of his probation in a manslaughter case from a car crash. According to the report, this isn’t the first time the Judge has forced church attendance on an offender and he gloats about it. What he doesn’t believe is that it might be illegal? If treated like cases where people were required to go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings which are religious in nature, then the judge is wrong in his view of the law and the teen’s rights were violated.

Anybody who knows Oklahoma District Court Judge Mike Norman probably yawned at the news that he’d sentenced a teen offender to attend church as part of his probation arrangement, and that the judge’s pastor was in the courtroom at the time.

Not only had he handed down such a sentence before, but he’d required one man to bring the church program back with him when he reported to court.

“The Lord works in many ways,” Norman, 69, told ABC News today. “I’ve done a little bit of this kind of thing before, but never on such a serious charge.”
Norman sentenced Tyler Alred, 17, Tuesday after he pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in August for killing friend and passenger John Luke Dum in a car crash.

“It’s not going to be automatic, I guarantee you,” Norman said of the church sentence on future manslaughter charges. “There are a lot of people who say I can’t do what I did. They’re telling me I can’t legally sentence someone to church.”

Oklahoma Judge Sentences Teen to Church for 10 Years

The Oklahoma judge said the teen could attend a church of his choice but he requires a program as proof of attendance. Some “choice”.

It is a shame that the kid’s lawyer and parents aren’t really protecting his rights.

This reminds me when courts have tried to require attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings after DUI convictions. Since AA is a religiously based sobriety program some courts have ruled that such required attendance is a 1st amendment violation:

Three federal circuit courts have held that coerced participation in 12-step programs like AA and NA violates the First Amendment. In Kerr v. Ferry, 95 F.3d 472 (7th Cir. 1996), the Seventh Circuit held that requiring an inmate to attend NA meetings or risk suffering adverse effects for parole eligibility violated the Establishment Clause. The Second Circuit reached a similar conclusion in Warner v. Orange County Department of Probation, 115 F.3d 1068 (2d Cir. 1997), striking a probation condition requiring attendance at AA meetings. And most recently the Ninth Circuit determined that a parolee’s First Amendment rights were violated when his parole officer forced him to attend 12-step meetings as a condition of his parole. Inouye v. Kemna, 504 F.3d 705 (9th Cir. 2007). In the latter two cases the courts found the law sufficiently clearly established to abrogate the officers’ qualified immunity. Qualified immunity shields government officials from liability for civil damages “insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800 (1982). In other words, Warner and Inouye were able to go forward with lawsuits against their officers for damages for violation of their constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Numerous federal district courts and state supreme courts have reached the same conclusion.

Does Mandatory AA/NA Violate the First Amendment?

I’ve found no evidence that mandatory church attendance reduces crime:

Religiosity had no significant relationship with violent crime, but it had a notable positive correlation with property crime. To see this, I simply used Microsoft Excel to plot the numbers against each other (see charts below).

If nothing else, this data disproves the notion that less religious belief inexorably contributes to, or is correlated with, more crime. Not only is this completely false, but the opposite–that religion is correlated with crime–is somewhat true.

Religion, Atheism and Crime

I think that forcing a child to attend church by force of the state is a form of child abuse and any parent who allows it to happen should be ashamed.


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  1. A. L. Curtis
    December 1, 2012

    I suggested this years ago that judges should use church attendance for young violators. It can't hurt, and probably can help. Isn't that what we want to do, help those violators find their way? In my own family of three sisters I see this outcome: Two sisters raised their children in church. Both families have great kids who still attend church and are raising their own kids in church. The third sister said, "I won't force my kids to attend church," and she refused to take them to church. Her children are alcoholics, into drugs and agnostic. She later admitted: "My kids are bums." How sad to hear a mother say that. So to Judge Norman I say, "You are on the right track. Go for it."

    • December 1, 2012

      It doesn’t matter if it helps or not (which is debatable), the state is not allowed to force you to be religious or force you through treat of jail to attend a church.

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