A Kentucky judge is boosting local church attendance by offering drug offenders a sentence of worship services instead of confinement or rehab.
The Associated Press has reported that Laurel County District Judge Michael Caperton has provided, on about 50 different occasions, to drug and alcohol offenders the option of going to church instead of spending time behind bars or in a rehab center.
Caperton said he sees no harm to the First Amendment principle of church-state separation, because "it's not mandatory and I say worship services instead of church." The judge added that any denomination is acceptable.
The judge's actions, however, are unacceptable. Caperton's understanding of the meaning of the First Amendment cannot be taken seriously. Federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have long held that the separation of church and state forbids the government from advancing, aiding or giving the appearance of endorsement of religion. No official can constitutionally pressure Americans to attend religious services against their will.
Caperton's church-sentencing options send an unmistakable message to those before him and the community - that a little time in the pews is as helpful, if not more so, than anything the government can do for drug offenders.
According to the AP, Caperton was reprimanded by the state's Judicial Conduct Commission for presiding over a case involving a friend instead of disqualifying himself. The state body should examine Caperton's latest judicial antics and conclude them beyond the pale. Providing religious sentences for drug offenders should be halted immediately.