Judge To Stop Church Sentences
Feb. 06, 1998
DALLAS (AP) _ To settle a lawsuit, a judge has agreed to stop sentencing defendants who want to avoid fines to attend church and Sunday school.
Justice of the Peace Bruce McDougal insisted the program had been misunderstood, but said he stopped it as soon as he learned the American Civil Liberties Union intended to go to court over it.
``We simply won't do it anymore,'' McDougal said Thursday.
McDougal sentenced 14-year-old Zack J. Smith to attend church and a Sunday school program for eight weeks after he pleaded guilty Dec. 3 to disorderly conduct for fighting at school.
The settlement, agreed to Tuesday and released Thursday, allows Zack to complete the community service requirement with a secular nonprofit organization.
``I was very pleased that the county recognized that this wasn't even a gray area, that this was something that needed to stop immediately,'' said attorney Michael Linz, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Smith family.
The boy requested community service as punishment because he could not pay the $200 fine. No secular options were offered.
The family objected to the church requirement. Zack said he is an atheist, and his mother, Valerie Smith, does not attend organized religious services.
The teen-ager plans to complete his community service with the Veterans Administration.
McDougal said he had only been using the program to help children who otherwise would have had trouble paying court-imposed fines.