January 2013 Church & State | AU Bulletin

An Oklahoma judge who sentenced a 17-year-old boy to 10 years of church attendance is standing by the penalty – even if it may not have been the constitutional thing to do.

Judge Mike Norman gave Tyler Alred a 10-year deferred sentence for DUI manslaughter. Alred was driving a Chevrolet pickup in the early morning hours of Dec. 4, 2011, when he hit a tree. His passenger and friend, 16-year old- John Dum, was pronounced dead at the scene.

The church requirement is just one of the conditions that Norman placed on Alred’s deferred sentence. The judge also ordered him to finish high school and complete welding school. Both Alred’s attorney and the victim’s family agreed to the terms of the sentence.

Norman said he didn’t believe his sentence would pass a legal challenge – but he doesn’t believe either side will seek an appeal.

The Rev. Bruce Prescott, an activist with the Oklahoma chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said he is sure the sentence doesn’t pass constitutional muster, but he is equally worried about the spiritual ramifications.

“I’m a minister,” Prescott said. “I want people to go to church, but it’s not helpful for a judge to sentence someone to church. What will the judge do if the young man changes his affiliation in the next few years? Will he be allowed to switch to a mosque or become an atheist? Religion is not a tool of the state, and it’s certainly not for the state to use as a tool of rehabilitation.” (Religion News Service)