South Carolina Judge Sentences Drunk Driver To Bible Study

Judge Michael Nettles

South Carolina Circuit Court Judge Michael Nettles

Circuit Court Judge Michael Nettles attached a rather odd — and unconstitutional — provision to the eight year prison sentence of a drunk driver: a mandatory bible study and what is essentially a book report on the Book of Job:

Circuit Court Judge Michael Nettles of Rock Hill has included in his sentencing of Cassandra Tolley the assignment of reading through the Book of Job and then writing a summary on the Old Testament Scripture.

Cassandra Tolley was convicted of drunk driving after she drove down the wrong side of the road and plowed into an oncoming car, seriously injuring two men. Her blood alcohol content was more than four times the legal limit.

Tolley undoubtedly deserved a stiff sentence, but sentencing someone to a religious activity clearly violates the Constitution’s ban on laws “respecting an establishment of religion.” As conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy explained in Lee v. Weisman, “[i]t is beyond dispute that, at a minimum, the Constitution guarantees that government may not coerce anyone to support or participate in religion or its exercise.”

Nettles’ biography on the South Carolina Judicial Department website lists his involvement with the Lake City First Baptist Church and his membership in the Foreign Missions Team.

Religion has clashed with the rule of law plenty of times before, though rarely during sentencing. Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore was removed from his office in 2003 for refusing to comply with a federal court order to take down a monument of the Ten Commandments in front of the courthouse.