ACLU files judicial complaint over Oklahoma teen's church sentence

A complaint has been filed against an eastern Oklahoma district judge who sentenced a teenager to attend church for 10 years as a condition of parole.
by Randy Ellis Modified: December 4, 2012 at 8:21 pm •  Published: December 4, 2012
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The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma has filed a judicial complaint against a Muskogee County district judge who sentenced a teenager to attend church for 10 years as a condition of parole.

The complaint, filed Tuesday, accuses Muskogee County District Judge Mike Norman of violating Oklahoma's Code of Judicial Conduct.

“It is shocking that a judge would so blatantly ignore the First Amendment, which at a minimum prevents the government from forcing church attendance and from interfering in deeply personal matters of faith,” said Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the ACLU of Oklahoma.

The complaint stems from a parole requirement Norman placed on Tyler Alred, 17, of Muskogee, as part of a deferred sentence in a youthful offender manslaughter case.

Alred was driving a pickup about 4 a.m. Dec. 3, 2011, when it crashed into a tree along a county road east of Muskogee, killing his friend and passenger, John Luke Dum, 16, of Muskogee.

Alred admitted drinking but tested below the legal blood-alcohol limit of 0.08 on two breath tests. However, because he was underage, he was considered to be driving under the influence.

“Judge Norman's decision to give this defendant a choice between church and prison cannot be enforced without illegal governmental intrusion into a young man's conscience,” said Brady Henderson, legal director of the ACLU of Oklahoma. “Not only is this inconsistent with our nation's fundamental guarantees of freedom of worship, it is also offensive to the very religion it is meant to advance. Acts of worship should come from a freely made choice to adopt a faith, not from the government giving its citizens an ultimatum to sit either in a pew or a prison cell.”

ACLU officials said they filed the complaint with the Oklahoma Council on Judicial Complaints.

ACLU of Oklahoma officials filed the complaint of their own volition, and it was not requested by Alred or his family, Henderson said.

Henderson said as far as he knows, Alred is not upset about being required to attend church.

“Our concern is more with what happens from here on out with this judge,” Henderson said.

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by Randy Ellis
Capitol Bureau Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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