Speed Reads

Only in America

Only in America: Jail or Jesus

An Alabama town lets inmates choose between a jail cell and a church pew — and more in our collection of strange revelations about the nation

A small, southern Alabama town called Bay Minette is giving non-violent offenders a choice: Go to jail or go to church. Those who choose a pew instead of a cell must join one of 56 participating congregations in the county, and check in with their pastor once a week. Civil liberties activists say this program violates the Constitution by essentially forcing people to attend church. Local preachers argue that it's not coercive, just effective. "You show me somebody who falls in love with Jesus," says pastor Robert Gates, "and I'll show you a person who won't be a problem to society."