VIEW FROM THE PEW: Oklahoma judge sentences 17-year-old to 10 years of church attendance

Posted: Dec. 7, 2012 6:28 pm Updated: Jan. 4, 2013 7:15 pm

One of the most interesting items I have come across in some time involves a ruling by a district judge in Oklahoma.

Judge Mike Norman sentenced a 17-year-old boy to 10 years of church attendance after he gave him a 10-year deferred sentence for DUI manslaughter. The young man in question, Tyler 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, according to the Religion News Service.

The service also reported required church attendance was 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 had never before done it for a manslaughter charge.

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."

Here are two other views on this ruling:

º The Rev. Bruce Prescott, executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State: "I'm a minister. 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."

º Ryan Kiesel, the executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the ACLU: "(The sentence 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. The Constitution is not exercised at your discretion. You take an oath to uphold it all the time, not just sometimes."


The best of Max

The Rev. Max Lucado is one of my favorite Christian authors, and I have suggested works of his in this space before. Lucado has written more than 50 books with 28 million copies in print. He was named "America's Pastor" by Christianity Today magazine and in 2005 was named by Reader's Digest as "The Best Preacher in America." Here's some my favorite Lucado thoughts:

º "There is a time for risky love. There is a time for extravagant gestures. There is a time to pour out your affections on one you love. And when the time comes -- seize it, don't miss it."

º "A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd."

º "Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional."

º "Our belief in God is not blind faith. Belief is having a firm conviction something is true, not hoping it's true."

º "Be a child again. Flirt. Giggle. Dip your cookies in your milk. Take a nap. Say you're sorry if you hurt someone. Chase a butterfly. Be a child again."