Would You Rather Go To Church or Prison?


That’s the choice a judge gave a teenage drunk driver. Constitutional?

On its face, the case seemed tragic, but unexceptional. Last December, two teenagers were driving a pickup truck down an Oklahoma road at 4 a.m. when the driver, Tyler Alred, swerved off the road and hit a tree, ejecting and killing his 16-year-old passenger. Alred told police he had been drinking earlier that evening, and took two breath tests that showed, at the time of the crash, a blood-alcohol level of around 0.07—under the legal limit for adults, but over the limit for an underage driver. Alred pled guilty last August to manslaughter in the first degree as a youthful offender. The sentence was four years to life in prison, with parole.

But Alred won’t be serving any time in jail, provided, that is, he goes to church every Sunday for the next 10 years. In a decision that has received national attention and widespread criticism, Oklahoma District Court Judge Mike Norman gave Alred a 10-year deferred sentence, which enables Alred to avoid serving any hard time as long as he fulfills certain probation terms such as, among other things, graduating from high school, taking regular drug and alcohol tests, speaking about the dangers of drinking and driving, and, yes, going to church every week for the next decade. If Alred fails to abide by these terms, Judge Norman told the New York Times that he would send the boy to prison.

Written By: Ryan McCartney
continue to source article at slate.com


  1. It creeps me out that the judge seriously thinks he did the right thing. Ordinary citizens are aware that it’s unconstitutional to force someone to go to church, and the judge must also be aware of that, but did he really think he could get away with such a decision?

  2. First of all, I don’t see how this could be enforced.  If the defendent doesn’t go to church how would the judge even know? 

    Actually, what is much more common in cases like this is that judges require people to go to a faith based program like Alcoholics Anonymous.  Many AA meetings give out signed ‘attendance slips’ so the defendent has proof they fullfilled the requirement.  Isn’t that just as wrong? 

  3. Some wierd values by the judge.  He must be able to defend the notion that church is a punishment to equate it with a gaol term. Or he thinks the regime is a more constructive way of keeping him on the straight and narrow.

    The kid should opt for church.   He can always read comics or fall asleep in the pews (no laws against that) and he only has to attend – he is not required to participate!

  4. More detail on this needed! “Go to church every week”? Does that mean to one service a week, so he’ll have to do it 520 times? 

    Or does he have to attend the morning AND the evening service? AND the mid-week prayer meeting? And the “Mens Prayer Breakfast” on a Saturday morning? And probably have to wash the dishes after the “Womens Bible Study” on a Tuesday. If its a real evangie church they’ll have all these. And a “Kids session” probably on the Friday.

    That would qualify as “cruel and unusual punishment”

    I think it would be better to “go grey in the chokey” as Big Vern would say (UK readers will appreciate this.. or maybe not :-)))))))) 


  5. I just listened to Thinking Atheist’s podcast about The Church of Satan. What would the judge have said if Tyler Alred had told him that he wants to serve his time attending the church of his personal faith: The Church of Satan?

  6. I’d like to praise the young man for taking responsibility for his actions, and the judge for not consigning a young man to prison who was prepared to take responsibility for his tragic actions.

    Then I would roundly condemn the same judge for forcing anyone to spend time with deliberately ignorant people

  7.  Any church?

    So, start one, complete with tax breaks and a sacrament of your choice…

  8. Based on the religious versus non religious population in prison (when compared to the general public) neither seem like a good way to reform a criminal. Making him join an atheist or humanist group or asking him to hang out with non believers might have better success.

  9. The Jersey Devil, of course it’s NOT just as wrong, AA is hidden christianity so the judge would have “plausible deniability.” 

  10. nice thought Geoff 21, in the 10 years it’s probably possible to turn a handsome profit and set him up for life! I’m sure the judge would be delighted too.

  11. Geoff 21
     Any church?
    So, start one, complete with tax breaks and a sacrament of your choice…

    I think I have the ideal solution if he wants to set up home tax-free, or his family is prepared to move house! 

    Find Oklahoma Churches for sale on LoopNet.com. View the following Oklahoma Churches listings available for sale.

    With the increasing secularism, many more should be becoming available for more constructive uses!

  12. I wouldn’t charactarize AA as ‘hidden Christianity’.  While some similarities may exist, AA is very different from any Christian churches of which I’m aware.  For one, atheists are explicitly allowed to join AA. 

    So I would judge AA on its own merit.  It is still faith based, though and should therefore be subject to first amendment scrutiny.   

Leave a Reply