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Oklahoma Judge Defends
Sentencing Teenager to Church


By GREG HORTON                                                                            ©2012 Religion News Service

A district judge in Oklahoma who sentenced a 17-year-old boy to 10 years of church attendance is standing by his sentence as the right thing to do -- 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 December 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 the church requirement is something he has done in the past, especially in child support cases. He has never done it for a manslaughter charge.

Ryan Kiesel, the executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the ACLU, said the requirement to attend church is a "clear violation of the First Amendment."

"It's my understanding that this judge has recommended church in previous sentences, and I believe that goes too far, as well," Kiesel said. "This, however, actually making it a condition of a sentence, is a clear violation of the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment."

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

"Both families were satisfied with the decision," Norman said in an interview. "I talked to the district attorney before I passed sentence. I did what I felt like I needed to do."

In order to challenge the constitutionality of the church attendance requirement, an individual or organization must show that it has legal standing to do so. Kiesel said the ACLU is considering what options they have.






 

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