South Carolina Judge: I Sentence You to Read the Bible

Perhaps I should just start a regular feature called “My Dumb Home State”.  South Carolina is known basically for being an embarrassment, and we like to continue that tradition thoroughly and frequently.  You may or may not remember that the ACLU sued a prison in SC for only allowing the inmates access to one book, The Bible.

A woman was convicted of drunk driving and, among her other sentences, was also sentenced by the judge to read and write a book report on the Book of Job.  Aside from the arbitrariness of the sentence, it is also, at best, extremely borderline on that whole church/state separation issue.  According to the news report, the assignment was an attempt on the judge to be compassionate by showing that God could hurt people and then treat them well in the end — it was a way of communicating to the woman that, though her life had been difficult, it wouldn’t necessarily always be so.

I can see the compassion of the statement he was trying to convey, though I am not sure that Job is the best way to get that message across.  It is one of the stories that most demonstrates the capriciousness and chaotic neutral approach that God generally takes.  It is very easy to hate God in that story; it’s difficult not to.  I’m also sure that there are many other, better stories of people who were real who had difficult lives and went to jail but ended up being quite successful (Danny Trejo, Stephen Fry, etc.).

As compassionate as it is though, that is the job of her pastor, not of her judge.  He has no place trying to guide her spiritual life and certainly no place using the authority of the state to enforce it.  I don’t think he is a bad guy and, as mistakes go, I think this is one that doesn’t begin to measure up to not allowing prisoners to read anything but The Bible, but that doesn’t make it OK either.

South Carolina Judge: I Sentence You to Read the Bible
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14 thoughts on “South Carolina Judge: I Sentence You to Read the Bible

  1. 4

    Maybe he was trying to demonstrate the randomness of the judicial system as enforced by a god who kills innocent people (job’s family).

  2. 5

    Generally I agree, it was an unwise decision by a clueless judge. But you have to admit, USA could use more bible reading. No faster way I know of creating atheists. 🙂

    Regarding ‘chaotic neutral’ in the text of the post itself: Geek credentials recognized and admired.

  3. 6

    I totally want that sentence if I commit a crime.

    “The story of Job teaches us that the Abrahamic god is a demented psychopath, and that it’s perfectly justified to slaughter hundreds just to prove a point.”

    Now let me go!

  4. F

    Sure sounds like a stupid guy, if not bad, but I don’t know who he is, or what his record is, or what it might be like to sit in hit courtroom.

    As far as arbitrariness goes, with respect to the Bible, choosing anything out of that book to be read would by necessity be pretty damn arbitrary, because none of it really applies to anything.

  5. 8

    The “my dumb home state” bit caught my eye – for SC is also my dumb home state (though I am currently living in the only-marginally-less-dumb-and-then-only-because-Atlanta-is-cosmopolitan GA), but the chaotic neutral comment kinda made my day. I am fundamentally baffled by the idea that torturing a family just to prove a point to your disobedient lieutenant somehow proves how awesome you are. What scares me more is that the people I grew up going to church with aren’t.

  6. 9

    I was just thinking about the book of Job in a different context this morning.

    Seems to me that Job derails two specific religious claims.
    1. That hell is the absence of god.

    Why, there’s Satan with Yahweh, having a conversation. Where, oh where, can this conversation be occurring? In heaven? Don’t think so, Satan was expelled from heaven. So…where? Bayonne? Cleveland?

    2. That Satan has dominion over the Earth.

    No way. Satan can’t do harm to Job without Yahweh’s express permission. In fact, this is the only book in the bible that specifically shows Satan doing any harm whatsoever to humans. (NB: The snake was a snake. A talking snake with legs. Yahweh punished snakes, not Satan. Unless you’re going to concede Yahweh was dumb enough to fall for a cheesy disguise — which really puts all kinds of limits on its omniscience.)

    Frankly, the main message I get from Job is that Yahweh is something of a self-absorbed prick.

  7. 10

    Can you imagine the inmate conversations, though? All of them are stuck reading one book, and if my experience with everyone reading “The Deathly Hallows” at around the same time is any indication it’ll go something like…

    “Hey, I finally got halfway through. The bit about the cheesemongers really threw me.”
    “Totally. Wait until you get to the part where he dies!”
    “Dude, you’re supposed to say: ‘spoiler alert’!”

  8. 11

    Which is worse: South Carolina or Alabama? Bay Minette, Alabama is the town that instituted a “church or jail” sentencing option: first-time offenders convicted of misdemeanors can avoid jail sentences and fines by attending church every week for a year. It’s called “Operation ROC”, or Restore Our Community, and TrooBeleevers are just shocked that anyone could call it unconstitutional: “No one is being FORCED to attend a religious service! Just because the only option is going to jail, that doesn’t constitute FORCE!”

    1. 11.1

      That’s horrible. Fortunately, googling it, it appears Operation ROC lasted all of 1 month. It was proposed in September 2011, provoked an immediate letter from the ACLU, and was put on hold in October 2011 pending a review by the Attorney General.

      I couldn’t find any articles on it from a later date, but the lack of an ACLU suit against it as an active policy leads me to believe it was quitely shelved.

  9. 12

    I find it instructive that the judge sentenced a drunk driver to read a book where the main character magically transforms water into wine, to the approval of everybody and the disapproval of nobody.

    This is supposed to encourage her to stop drinking (or at least, stop drinking and driving). The logic escapes me.

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