Forced religion in the court system

A judge in Mississippi has received a public reprimand and 30 day suspension for, among other things, requiring church attendance as a condition of release on bail (H/T Legal Profession Blog). In one case, a defendant was re-arrested and held without bond twice for not attending church, which was a condition of his release.
A lawsuit against the Berkeley County Jail is still pending, brought by the ACLU on behalf of Prison Legal News and joined by the U.S. Attorney’s office, alleging that the jail denies access to any literature except for the King James version of the bible.
In Horry County, when a juvenile enters the juvenile arbitration program, one of their conditions is that they attend church – to my knowledge, no one has challenged this yet. Arbitration is a good program – it is a way to avoid court for minor offenders, and serves the purposes of the juvenile system better than incarceration or other punitive measures. According to the DJJ’s overview of the program, requirements may include:
• Paying monetary restitution.
• Performing a community service.
• Making a charitable donation.
• Attending educational programs.
• Participating in counseling.
• Writing topical essays.
• Apologizing to the victim(s).
• Attending substance abuse programs.
• Participating in victim impact panels.
• Visiting correctional institutions or making other appropriate field trips.
Nowhere in the list does it say, “attend church services,” yet when a child enters the program in Horry County it appears in their requirements. No parent is going to risk their child being expelled from or not accepted into the program by challenging this requirement, and failure to complete the program is not appealable, so it is not capable of judicial review. The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion . . .” I am pretty sure this also prohibits the endorsement of any particular religion by forcing children to attend church services through the court system.
I am curious as to whether this is the practice statewide, or if it is only in Horry County, and if anyone has further information on how Horry County handles a juvenile who says no to attending church services. Leave a comment or send me an email.

One Response to “Forced religion in the court system

  • Lance Fowler
    7 years ago

    My daughter was in that program and we wonder the same thing. In my case my daughter like to go to church so she was ok with it. I didnt care for it because they enable her and gave her excuses (reasons for your actions) she need tuff love and accountability. Now she is in CEC because solicitor read false statement at trail srink says she sould be there but there she sits sobbing she comes from a good home youngest of 4 23, 19, 18 but, I a bad parent to the courts and in denial.

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