Yesterday, the New York Times published an article about Mike Norman, a judge in Oklahoma, who routinely sentences people to compulsory church attendance. In this particular instance, he sentenced a teenager, convicted of manslaughter, to attend church regularly for a decade. Discretionary sentencing is not uncommon, but compulsory church attendance? “The judge said he was surprised at the criticism. “I feel like church is important,” he said. “I sentenced him to go to church for 10 years because I thought I could do that.”” Aha. The judge, the NYT noted, did not specify which church the defendant should attend but apparently, he also said: “I think Jesus can help anybody. I know I need help from him every day.”
It is irrelevant that the victim’s father seems to have agreed with the sentence, but I am surprised–I know I shouldn’t be–that a judge can act like this in a public manner, for years, in a country that prides itself on its separation of state and church. Apparently, this is neither uncommon, nor illegal, as long as the defendant does not complain. In fact, it seems like a slap on the wrist: go to church (which you do anyway, as in this case), and you’ll collect extra points.
If ever I get a traffic ticket, I hope I’ll get sentenced to attend weekly classes at a yeshiva of my choice, too.