Teen sentenced to attend church as part of probation for DUI manslaughter conviction | Tulsa World
What do you think? Is mandatory church attendance a good punishment? Getting off easy? A blatant violation of the separation of church and state? Other thoughts?MUSKOGEE - Attending church on Sunday for 10 years was one of the conditions a Muskogee County judge placed on a teenager whose sentence in a manslaughter case was deferred this week for 10 years.
Defense attorney Donn Baker said that although the church requirement is unusual, it is not something he intends to challenge.
"My client goes to church every Sunday," Baker said. "That isn't going to be a problem for him. We certainly want the probation for him."
The defendant, Tyler Alred, 17, was behind the wheel of a Chevrolet pickup about 4 a.m. Dec. 3 when he crashed into a tree on a county road east of Muskogee. His friend and passenger John Luke Dum, 16, of Muskogee died at the scene.
Alred, a high school and welding school student, admitted to Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers that he had been drinking, records show.
Although not legally drunk - he was given two breath tests, which, at 0.06 and 0.07, fell below the legal 0.08 blood-alcohol threshold for legal drunkenness - he was underage and, as a result, considered to be driving under the influence of alcohol.
Alred was charged with manslaughter as a youthful offender. He pleaded guilty in August, with no plea deal with prosecutors to govern his punishment.
Muskogee County District Judge Mike Norman - who determined the conditions to accompany Alred's deferred sentence - could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Left to monitor Alred's church attendance is the District Attorney's Office. District Attorney Larry Moore also was not available to comment Wednesday.
Assistant District Attorney Jim Carnagey said the judge has required church attendance with other defendants in the past.
Randall Coyne, a professor of law at the University of Oklahoma, said the church-attendance condition probably wouldn't withstand a legal challenge but that someone would have to file such a challenge.
"It raises legal issues because of (the separation of) church and state," he said.
Coyne said defense lawyers in other cases have successfully challenged orders that their clients attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings because of AA's spiritual component.
"This young man may feel like this is a just punishment as far as he's concerned," he said.
The problem arises in how to enforce it and what should be done if he were to fail to attend church, Coyne said.
Alred's sentencing Tuesday was emotional.
Carnagey said Alred - with his minister in the courtroom - addressed Dum's family members, who were sitting in the front row of the gallery.
Baker said Alred "started crying, and (Dum's) father got up and went over to him and they hugged, and both of them cried wrenching tears for several minutes."
Carnagey said one of Dum's sisters also told the judge that there was no sense in ruining two lives by sending Alred to prison.
Alred testified that he has been shunned since the crash, Baker said.
"He understands the gravity and the hurt and wishes he could take it back," he said. "This is something he'll have to live with the rest of his life.
"He told (Dum's) family (that) every day and every hour he regretted his decision to drink and drive."
In addition to going to church and the standard rules governing deferred sentences, Norman imposed other conditions for Alred to avoid prison.
The teenager must wear an ankle bracelet that monitors alcohol consumption; attend victim-impact panels and speak at events about the consequences of drinking and driving; graduate from high school and welding school; attend counseling; and undergo drug and alcohol assessments.
I don't agree with it for many reasons.
Separation of church and state.
When I did attend church I wouldn't have wanted others to be there viewing it as punishment. Church shouldn't be punishment.
It said he was already attending church so on the flip side how can it be a punishment if one is already doing it?
I do think it's a violation of the separation of church and state for a judge to order you to go to church. Even if you're already a Christian, I don't see how your church attendance is the judge's business.
I also agree with Jessica that if he already goes to church, it's not much of a "punishment." Which brings makes me wonder if the point should be punishment or rehabilitation (or some combo of both.) If the point is punishment, then being ordered to do something you already do doesn't seem like a big one. If the point is rehab, then I think you could argue that perhaps church might be helpful. Maybe. He was already going to church and it didn't stop him from drinking and driving the first time, but I'm sure that he will seriously think before he ever drinks and drives again unless he has a serious problem, and I'm sure he has need of a supportive community if he's going to stay on the straight and narrow.
So, I think my opinion is that it is wrong of the judge to order the kid to go to church, but having said that it could be helpful to the kid to embrace and be embraced by his church community. I just don't think it should court ordered.
Alred testified that he has been shunied since the crash, Baker said.
Maybe the judge was worried he'd stop going because of this? I could see the problem with separation of church and state if the kid wasn't already going to church or if the judge told him which one to go to. Telling him to go to church leaves him a lot of different options and even if he becomes an atheist further down the line, he could start his own church. My husband just wrote a paper on how religion affects the community and even if you don't want to acknowledge it, the fact is that this is a way to keep him from becoming withdrawn from his peers.
I do think it's good for him to continue or start with a community where he will get support, which is why going to church may well be a really good thing for him. Not denying that.
I still think it's a violation of the Constitution for the judge to order it though. I don't think it matters that he was already a Christian or that the judge didn't say which one he had to go to. Simply by ordering the kid to go to any religious institution I am pretty sure that he violated the separation clause. I think a better way to handle it would be to do all of the other stuff they did (counseling, ankle bracelet, et cetera) and then also suggest (not order) that he find a supportive community, such as a church. It's the ordering him to go to church that crosses the line. If a judge feels like he can order one person to go to church for their own good, why not another (like a non-Christian?) Also, do you really think it's appropriate to treat Christian differently than a non-Christian under the law?
I also don't disagree that church may be beneficial. I never said it wouldn't be or couldn't be. I'm not comfortable with a judge handing that sentence down.