OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA— The ACLU of Oklahoma filed a complaint Tuesday with the Oklahoma Council on Judicial Complaints against Muskogee County District Judge Mike Norman for requiring a defendant to attend church for ten years as a condition of probation.
The complaint states in part that Judge Norman violated Oklahoma’s Code of Judicial Conduct which requires Judges to “uphold and apply the law”. With this sentence, Judge Norman disregarded fundamental principles of religious liberty found in the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, as well as guarantees of religious liberty found in the Oklahoma Constitution.
“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.
Comments made by Judge Norman since the case first caught the public eye show the Judge may have been aware that he was not following the law when he ordered Tyler Alred, seventeen, to attend church for the next decade on penalty of prison. As Judge Norman stated to one reporter, “I received a couple of bad calls...telling me it was in violation of the U.S. Constitution. They may well be right, but that’s what I did...” (Quotation from: “Church Order Questioned,” The Daily Oklahoman, 18 November 2012).
“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,” continued Henderson. “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.”
“This case is a tragic story and our hearts go out to all of the parties involved,” said Kiesel. “As tragic as it is, it does not grant a judge the authority to ignore the founding principles of religious liberty, and we urge the Council will take appropriate action that ensures Judge Norman follows the Constitutions of the United States and Oklahoma, and also that the council’s their decision serves as a disincentive for judges who feel they are not bound by the law.”