A newly elected Texas judge has come under fire for offering an alternative to community service — read a Christian book and give a book report.
Judge John Clinton, who took to the bench in January, says he wants to provide an alternative to the standard community service – something that get’s those in trouble with the law to think about deeper issues.
“I felt it as a calling,” said Clinton. “I’m just trying to think outside the box. Trying to mold the punishment to help these individuals, instead of set them up to fail.”
Last week the judge offered nine defendants this opportunity in place of community service. He proposed that they read the book “The Heart of the Problem” and then come back in a few months and then discuss with him about the book.
Immediately the ACLU targeted the judge’s actions, calling his proposal “inappropriate and unconstitutional.” In a March 29 letter, the ACLU said the book “proselytizes Christianity and advocates turning to God to solve problems.”
Though Judge Clinton believed his recommendation could potentially have helped put the defendants in his court on the right track, the criticism has since caused him to revise his plan.
“I have stopped the book,” explained Clinton, “and I’m looking for something similar that I can offer to everyone.”
Clinton has also adamantly denied accusations that he is attempting to impose his religious beliefs on anyone. “All I was trying to do was help. I was told about the book. I received the book. I read the book. I thought, ‘Hey, this is a great book.’”
Lisa Graybill, legal director for the Texas ACLU, said that regardless of his plan it never should have been posed as an option in the first place.
“It is inexplicable to me how anyone with a law degree could think that what this judge was doing was constitutional,” said Graybill, who filed a complaint against the judge. “Thinking with his faith is not what he’s elected to do. When he dons the robe and takes the bench, his obligation is to think as a judge.”
Judge Sherman Ross, presiding judge of the county’s criminal courts, has stated that he is not going to proceed any further with the complaint.
“In Clinton’s defense, being on the bench for less than four months, he’s been experimenting with a number of things that help in the rehabilitation process,” said Ross. “That said, I did have a chat with him and we both agreed that although not unethical, it was inappropriate and he understands completely.”
However, others praise the idea proposed by the judge Clinton. Houston criminal defense attorney Stanley Schneider told KVUE.com that his idea should be embraced.
“I think this is a man that we really need to get behind. Anyone who wants to take the initiative, and trying to do something to help people in his courtroom to succeed in life, he’s someone we need to applaud.