A New Jersey city is punishing some curfew violators by sending them to church – and doesn’t view that policy as a constitutional problem.
This summer, Trenton is trying to crack down on children who violate the city’s curfew. According to a media report, city law enforcement said that beginning July 1, anyone under 18 found on the street between midnight and 6 a.m. can be dropped off by police at a local church.
“Right now, we’re having a difficult time,” Police Director Earnest Parrey said in June. “We have a lot of interaction with juveniles and because of that, there has to be some enforcement action taken on our part. We’ve got to limit the violence and this is just one of the many steps that we’re going to take so that folks aren’t living in fear throughout the summer.”
When Americans United heard about this plan, we sent a letter to city officials explaining that forcing kids to go to church would be an obvious violation of the First Amendment.
“This plan is plainly designed to communicate to youthful offenders that they ought to be engaged in religious activity instead of violating curfew,” AU wrote in a June 21 letter. “And the minors will be surrounded by religious iconography designed to send proselytizing messages. While we are sensitive to Trenton’s difficulties with youth violence, the City and County cannot legally solve the problem by forcing religion upon its youth.”
It seems the situation may not, however, be exactly as it was portrayed in the media. … (read article for more)
By Janice Rael on July 31, 2016