Church Qualifies as Punishment?

This is an interesting development.

Just read on Friendly Atheist that a child convicted of DUI manslaughter has been sentenced to probation which includes ten years of church attendance.

I’m not even sure where to go with this. First of all, what was the judge thinking? This is so very obviously illegal that any mildly competent lawyer should have known better.

Secondly, how is this in any way related to the crime? I understand it’s probably one of those misguided “this will teach him morals and ethics and blah blah blah” things, but this wasn’t an ethical lapse on the kid’s part (leaving aside that people who attend church still drink and drive regularly). This was a lapse of proper judgment that, granted, has an ethical component, but is largely about not drinking safely or legally and then operating a motor vehicle when he was intoxicated. Nothing in the bible is going to address those issues except in the most broad sense of the word (e.g. yes, the bible is generally against killing not sanctioned by god, but I don’t think killing his friend was the objective that evening).

But above all of this, while I would agree it is, does this judge consider going to church a punishment? If so, there are a lot more masochists than I thought in this country.

This is a horrible thing that happened, and the kid needs to be punished for it. However ten years of church attendance is not a rational judgment, it’s jurisprudence based on wishful thinking. Going to church will not teach this kid not to drink and drive, just like it hasn’t taught so many other regular church goers who do so.


7 thoughts on “Church Qualifies as Punishment?

  1. The news article that’s linked in the blog post doesn’t indicate that the judge thinks of this condition as some sort of punishment. It states pretty clearly that the judge couldn’t be reached, so it’s unfair of anyone to assume his thoughts or intentions where the ruling is assumed. Not all sentences are about punishment in our country, in fact, most seem to be about rehabilitation rather than punishment itself or even victim recompense.

    To propose a potential reason for this condition of the boy’s probation (not defending any religious implication as I don’t agree that mandated participation in organized religion is the answer here, just adding food for thought), the boy did actually kill another person. Regardless of the circumstance – and unless the life-taker is already so unbalanced that they see the act as enjoyable somehow – this can leave very deep emotional scars. Perhaps the judge knows the churches in his area very well. Perhaps he knows that the members of them (for the most part) are genuinely kind and compassionate people who would help this child through the inner turmoil that he will experience as a result of his crime. Perhaps he feels that this type of support could be helpful to this teen’s recovery – both emotionally and morally and judgement-wise.

    For the record, this is not a sentence I would have handed down had I sat the judge’s bench for this case; there would be civic service involved (if not some jail time) as well as mandatory therapy and at least first steps toward repaying the family for the monetary costs of saying goodbye to their loved one. But, we can’t know, or assign meaning, to the judge’s order without input from him to support the words we want to fling. We’d be upset if others did it to us, so it’s unfair to do it to him.

    • You’re right, we can’t know his motivations if he doesn’t tell us, but we can make educated guesses based on the behavior and motivations of judges who have handed down similar rulings. It’s likely that he sees the church attendance as rehabilitative, but I would still argue that there’s no reason to believe that’s the case unless he’s basing his ruling on faith in the transformative power of Christ, which shouldn’t be a legal consideration. Plus, as pointed out below, regular church attendance has already failed to prevent this kid from drunk driving, so it seems like nothing more than an attempt to work religion into legal precedent for others to use later. Therapy, which can include church counseling, would have been a better ruling, and somebody sitting on the bench should know that, just like they should know that you can’t compel somebody to attend religious services.

      • I kinda feel like it’s the other way around. If no one had bothered to ask, or if he’d stated something different, we’d be wrong to assume his motives. But if he’s making himself unavailable and not explaining his motives himself, then yeah, we’re kinda left to speculate.

  2. According to the original source, the kid already attends church regularly. So church has already failed to teach him not to drink and drive, and this “punishment” will result in no more difference to his life than if he were sentenced to attend school until he graduates. So I really don’t see what the point was.

    • My suspicion, and it’s pure speculation, is to put this on the books so it can be used by other judges in other cases. But maybe, as Sharon points out above, he just thinks that more church will be good for the kid due to support network or whatnot. I’m not sure why he would come to this conclusion, but it’s possible.

      • Happily (for those of us who would absolutely under no circumstances attend a Christian church for ten years), an unconstitutional precedent is still unconstitutional. If this kid is a regular church-goer, he’s not likely to challenge it, but if someone does, further down the line, the “established precedent” likely won’t hold any more water than any other “but we’ve always done it this way” arguments.

  3. I would point out that the judge should take into account both the criminal and society when sentencing. Forcing someone to go to church for drunk driving manslaughter is not a good way of preventing others from doing the same. It provides no deterrence at all.
    You might as well say that driving drunk is no big deal. From what I hear, in Oklahoma it isn’t a big deal. How could it be when someone who drives intoxicated kills someone and gets away with almost no sentence at all?

    The kid already went to church. It didn’t stop him from drinking underage and killing someone. So it’s unlikely to do so again. The sentence does not act as deterrence.

    BTW, I knew a guy when I was 16, he was 18 and took a friend out drinking on his birthday. They hit a telephone pole sideways in a VW station wagon going very fast. The vehicle didn’t exist on the passenger side anymore. The birthday boy had his head split open like a rotten melon.
    The driver felt terrible and showed tremendous remorse. For about three months. Then he was driving without a license and driving like he always did, a complete idiot. He too got away with it. No jail time. No real consequences. And he behaved like there were no consequences. He didn’t learn a damn thing from killing his friend. After all, according to him “It was just an accident”. Even though he was found guilty of driving impaired, driving without undue care and attention, driving over the speed limit and vehicular manslaughter.

    I hope this kid learns something from this. It’s certain the general public won’t. learn anything except that Oklahoma goes easy on drunk drivers who kill people.

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