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June 2, 2005

Religious conviction

Ten days in jail or ten church services—your choice, Kentucky-style:

When Scott Ray Hays pleaded guilty to a drug charge two weeks ago, Laurel District Judge Michael Caperton gave him three choices: Go to jail for 10 days. Go to rehab. Or go to church or another house of worship for 10 services. Hays chose church.
Caperton, 50, a devout Christian, said he thinks church attendance could help some of those convicted find spiritual guidance. “The goal is to help people and their families,” the judge said.
“I don’t think there’s a church-state issue, because it’s not mandatory and I say worship services instead of church.” Any denomination is acceptable, he said.

Whatever Caperton believes, this clearly violates the Establishment Clause, as Eugene Volokh observes:

Seems pretty “mandatory” to me. Sure, the offender doesn’t have to go to religious services; but if he says no, he’ll have to go to jail or rehab. Whether the condition is phrased as “You must go to religious services, or else we’ll send you to jail” or “You must go to jail, but we’ll let you get out of it by going to religious services,” the government is coercing people to go to religious services by threatening them with jail. Nor does it matter that he’s not picking the denomination; he’s still coercing people to engage in religious activity.

Definitely one for Kentucky’s Judicial Conduct Commission, which reprimanded Caperton five years ago for violating ethics rules by presiding over a criminal case that involved a friend.

Posted by Stephen at 2:00 AM in Religion + cults | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

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