Wednesday, June 01, 2005

creative sentencing

In keeping with the theme of ‘illicit drugs’ and related weirdness, Reason’s HIT & RUN mentions a Boston Globe article that reports on a bit of colorful ‘judicial activism’. Here’s the short piece in its entirety:
LONDON, Ky. -- A Kentucky judge has been offering some drug and alcohol offenders the option of attending worship services instead of going to jail or rehab -- a practice some say violates the separation of church and state.

District Judge Michael Caperton, 50, a devout Christian, said his goal is to "help people and their families."

"I don't think there's a church-state issue, because it's not mandatory and I say worship services instead of church," he said.

Alternative sentencing is popular across the country -- ordering vandals to repaint a graffiti-covered wall, for example. But legal experts said they didn't know of any other judges who give the option of attending church.

Caperton has offered the option about 50 times to repeat drug and alcohol offenders. It is unclear what effect the sentence has had.

David Friedman, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said the option raises "serious constitutional problems."

"The judge is saying that those willing to go to worship services can avoid jail in the same way that those who decline to go cannot," Friedman said. "That strays from government neutrality towards religion."
I consider the separation of church and state to be sacrosanct. Also, I happen to think that the archetypal ‘worship service’ is a form of punishment in many ways. Therefore, such a sentence ought to be reserved for those that would not already be predisposed to attend such a meeting.

Seriously though, an officer of the court is on the front lines of interpreting and defending the Constitution. Any and every judge is obliged to be completely neutral with respect to religion. While Judge Michael Caperton does seem to realize that ‘drug offenses’ aren’t worthy of incarceration, I would prefer that he simply rule that such laws are unconstitutional instead of using his position as an occasion to proselytize.