At the height of Pagan Pride “season” during which we publically celebrate our faith, Dogwood Local Council, an affiliate of Covenant of the Goddess, has learned of a disturbing new program right in our backyard. In the town of Bay Minette, Alabama, a small city of 8,000 residents just north of Mobile, the Police Department is sponsoring a new program that offers an alternative to jail. The program, which came out of a public community-wide meeting held at the Abundant Life Church, is called Operation Restore Our Community or R.O.C. It allows non-violent, first-time offenders to choose jail or a year of attending Church services.
At this time, the DLC board is pleased to see a very public national out-cry. And, we fully support the current actions taken by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Freedom of Religion Foundation. Both have directly contacted the Bay Minette Police demanding that the program be eliminated due to its unconstitutionality and violation of the First Amendment. Due to their intervention and the accompanying media pressure, the ROC program, originally slated to begin September 26, has been delayed until October 11th. At this time, the City is having the program fully reviewed by local Courts for legality issues.
The Dogwood Local Council board will be watching the outcome of the October 11th court ruling. We will seek clarification on the language used in the final ruling to ascertain whether or not Pagan criminals are afforded an equivalent alternative to jail time as local Christian offenders. If the Courts do, in fact, allow the program to begin, we will ask the Bay Minette Police, on behalf of the pagans of Bay Minette and North Baldwin County, to clarify how a Pagan offender can be included in this progressive program. In other words, can a Pagan Church (Temple, Grove, Coven) supervise the rehabilitation of such a non-violent criminal? Furthermore, this question can be applied to any non-Christian violator because currently the Program’s wording is limited to Christian language.
We support progressive programs that offer second chances and rehabilitation. We understand the need for a reduced jail costs and over-crowding. We know that small towns in our region derive much of their community from Christian-based Church life. However, most importantly, we also support the secular law of this country which, states:
"Alabama State Constitution (1901): Article Three, Religious freedom. –“…. that no preference shall be given by law to any religious sect, society, denomination, or mode of worship…"
Therefore, we cannot support a program in our backyard, or anywhere in our country, that does not afford everyone, no matter of religious faith, to participate in full. Just as we all deserve a second-chance at the proverbial “good life,” we all deserve the opportunity to do so on our own spiritual path or none at all.
Bay Minette, we are watching.