An Ohio judge who likes “creative sentencing” has ordered a Catholic man to attend Protestant church services rather than sending him to jail.
The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge William Mallory has a reputation for handing out unusual sentences – and this week he chose one for Jake Strotman that may be unconstitutional.
Strotman, 23, got into trouble back in January after attending a Cincinnati Cyclones hockey game. The Enquirer said Strotman had been drinking during the event and afterward he and some friends were approached by a group of Baptist preachers who didn’t approve of Strotman’s group.
“They were telling me I was going to hell,” Strotman told the newspaper. “I was asking them: ‘Why do you think you can condemn people?’ I didn’t understand why they thought they could judge me.”
From there, things escalated and eventually a fight broke out after more words were exchanged. In the minor melee, one of the preachers was cut by his own glasses and Strotman ended up being charged with low-level assault.
Facing 90 days in jail, Strotman was desperate to avoid prison time. He told Mallory as much.
Mallory said he was open to an alternative.
“I’m trying to get to something reasonable here,” Mallory said at the sentencing. “And I’ll be honest with you guys, sometimes in certain places people don’t want to be preached to. You agree with that right?”
Then the constitutional trouble began.
“I admire the fact that you want to spread the word of God because I’m a religious man, too,” Mallory continued. “Also the thing about religion, I think it is kind of personal and for me I don’t try to impose my religious views on other people except for sometimes in this room.”
Mallory, as a government official, certainly should not be imposing his religious beliefs on anyone. Least of all people like Strotman who are vulnerable. Yet that is exactly what happened.
Anxious to avoid that 90-day sentence, Strotman said: “Your honor, if I may, I would be more than happy to serve a church of your choosing.”
It seems that got the judge’s attention. Strotman, a Catholic, was sentenced to attend 12 Sunday services at Star Baptist Church, which is the house of worship to which the preachers involved in the fight belong. He also paid almost $3,000 in fines and legal fees.
“Three months, that’s not that bad,” Strotman said afterward. “I think it’s a nice example of hearing people out instead of getting angry and jumping to conclusions.”
The self-employed window, siding and doors salesman added: “I’m going to listen with both my ears and keep my mouth shut. Then, maybe I’ll try to sell them some windows.”
Strotman may be happy with his sentence, but that doesn’t mean it is right. While judges can have great leeway in sentencing for some matters, they cannot ignore secular law in favor of religious justice.
Regardless of his stated satisfaction, Strotman’s rights were violated here. Mallory may like creative sentencing from time to time, but if his idea of creative includes forcing religion on vulnerable people accused of crimes, then he is overstepping his bounds as a judge. He needs to enforce secular law with secular punishment because that is what the Constitution requires.