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A Separation of Church and State Conversion

Reported by Nancy - June 4, 2005 -

Yesterday (6/3) on Dayside, Linda Vester held a brief discussion on a Kentucky judge that has been using "worship services" as an alternative sentencing option for alcoholics and drug abusers. She interviewed two guests, both lawyers, Paul Salamanca and Roger Gibbs. Mr. Salamanca was invited to the show in order to argue against the judge's sentences, and Mr. Gibbs to argue for them.

The discussion began:
Vester: "Why is it an establishment of religion? If the judge says it can be any house of worship – any denomination, as far as I understand the constitution says we shall establish no state religion. And that's not what the judge is doing."
Salamanca: "Well the courts have interpreted the establishment clause to prohibit the promotion of religion in general as well as the promotion of any specific religion. So we're talking here about a judge that's saying go to any church or go to jail, I would not see a meaningful secular option in there. People might want to go to church
or might not, but I don't think going to jail is a meaningful secular option. I think that the judge may want to explore secular options. From the facts as I understand them…"
Vester: "Rehab is also an option in this, and part of the problem is there is tremendous overcrowding in the jails, and rehab is $2800 and there's a long wait list. So the judge is saying, if you want you can go to church right away."
Gibbs: "Well, I do want to say the judge has given them a choice of options, and one of them is the option to sign up for treatment the problem is a long waiting list among other things. So this is a way to get out of jail sooner and do something in the interim. It's not exclusive. They can also choose to go on to treatment. What we have
found and the position we're taking with these, is that it's a sentencing alternative and if our client wants to do it, we're certainly going to make that option to him."

Comments: According to the discussion, there are three options given to these inmates. Either go to jail, remain in jail until a rehab program opens up, or go to services. By this account, there still is no real secular alternative to the worship services, because if they do not accept to do this, they will be forced to remain in jail. No other options, such as community service, are offered in replacement of these worship services. This is the argument that Mr. Salamanca is making throughout the segment, and Vester argues the point with him, but virtually makes a case for Mr. Salamanca's point of view. She still, however, leads the audience to believe that these sentences are a good idea, despite making the case against them herself. The other problem that all of them fail to mention is the type of rehabilitation people will receive from simply attending worship services. With these services generally averaging two hours a week, with no one-on-one consultation, these inmates can easily go to services the required 10 times and receive nothing from them.

The discussion ends with Mr. Salamanca stating "Well, I don't think there's anything wrong. I'm sure the judge's intentions are good and his hearts in the right place. I'm learning more about this as I'm listening to the gentleman from the DPA describe it and if that comes from the defendant, and if the defendant is saying something along the lines of 'Please consider all of my ties to the community. I have a job, I live with my folks, I do charitable work and I go to church', I see, I think it's entirely appropriate for the judge to take all that into account  in deciding on probation instead of incarceration, and in fact, it would be hostile to religion for the judge not to take that into account. As I'm learning more about this from the DPA, I'm less uncomfortable about it."

While the case has clearly been made, albeit in a disguised manner, that the sentences are unfair, Mr. Salamanca not only changes his mind on them, he takes the side of the churches and the judge, rather than the Constitution, which he was brought on initially to defend.

Reported by Janie.