If you are in Oklahoma, the answer is yes. Muskogee County District Judge Mike Norman has imposed an unusual penalty on a teenager who was charged with DUI manslaughter in Oklahoma. Tyler Alred, 17, has been ordered to attend church on Sunday for the next ten years as part of his deferred DUI manslaughter case.
This is not the first time a judge has unconstitutionally ordered church attendance in lieu of jail time. In the town of Bay Minette, Alabama, the city judge offers the option of church attendance for a year or jail time to people charged with misdemeanor offenses.
On Dec. 3, Tyler Alred was driving a Chevrolet pickup at 4a.m. when he crashed into a tree on a county road; the crash killed his friend John Luke Dum, 16, who was the passenger in the truck. Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers arrived and Alred admitted that he had been drinking. His blood alcohol content was between 0.06 and 0.07. The legal limit is 0.08, but drivers under 21 are not allowed to consume any alcohol and will be charged with DUI regardless of their BAC under a zero tolerance policy.
No one has challenged Judge Norman’s bizarre probation, and unless it is challenged, the ruling will stand. Professor of law Randall Coyne said the condition would not stand a legal challenge, but a challenge would have to be filed.
In the 1992 case of Lee v. Weisman, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the state may not use a “threat of penalty” to “coerce anyone to support or participate in religion or its exercise.”
Some have successfully challenged court-mandated attendance of A.A. and N.A. meetings. In the case of Kerr v. Farrey, Kerr objected to being forced to attend N.A. meetings as an atheist, because the meetings began with a Christian prayer and because Kerr perceived N.A. as having a deterministic view of God in the way that belief in a God was necessary for full recovery. The Court ruled that the N.A. program was decidedly religious and based on monotheistic principles and a policy of coercing prisoners to attend the meetings was unconstitutional.
In Tyler Alred’s case, not much will change. His defense attorney, Donn Baker, said, “My client goes to church every Sunday. That isn’t going to be a problem for him. We certainly want the probation for him.”