March 29th, 2011
03:15 PM ET

Judge's sentence involving Christian book causes controversy

A new judge in Texas is trying to find a new way to punish criminals, but one of his ideas, involving a book report, is drawing fire.

Judge John Clinton took the bench in January. The retired Houston Police Department sergeant presides over Harris County Criminal Court No. 4.

“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.”

That’s what Clinton says he was doing last week when he offered nine defendants a unique opportunity in place of community service. He asked them to read the book “The Heart of the Problem” and then come back in a few months and talk with him about the book.

“The Heart of the Problem” is a Bible study that touts itself as a workbook that provides insights for victorious Christian living. The suggestion didn’t sit well with some attorneys who say the judge is violating the constitution.

Read the full story on KHOU.com
- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Church and state

soundoff (103 Responses)
  1. brad

    In order to avoid violating the Con–it–n, this judge could have thrown the offender into the klinker with a mandate to read Origin of Species. Later the judge would ask, "how will your new knowledge help you make this world a more loving and compassionate place?"

    April 28, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • SeanNJ

      Yeah, the "holy" books have worked wonders in that arena.

      April 28, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  2. Thwaaack

    I can't say I really have a problem with it so long as he isn't going to give people additional punishment if they say the book sucked. Educating someone in hopes that it will make them change is one thing, but using your position to strong-arm beliefs onto others is totally different.

    April 17, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
  3. Jaybird

    There must be some kind of other book that promotes kind and respectful ideas regarding fellow citizenry that honors a mysterious power or spiritual conscience. It doesn't have to have any particular religious interpretation to get the same result desired. Many very good citizens are not religious at all.

    April 17, 2011 at 4:56 am |
  4. Norm38

    I think a judge should mandate the reading of the Koran. That will put a stop to this nonsense real quick. Christian fascists love using the power of gov't to force religion down people's throats, as long as it's only their sick and twisted version of Christianity.

    April 13, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
  5. ShariaLawyer

    Watch when they come back and kill every person in the court room because the bible is filled with thousands upon thousands of torturous, evil, vile murders committed in the name of god. Worst book that I have ever read in my entire lifetime is the bible. That thing is the most disgusting, horrid piece of filth that I have ever laid eyes on. Not even Stephen king could match the depravity and sickness that is contained in the buybull.

    April 12, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  6. Brad Holkesvig

    How can the Bible reform anyone? It surely hasn't helped get rid of the pride and jealousy of Christians who condemn other sinners. Instead of loving themselves and their Bibles, they should take some advice from that book and start loving God and their neighbors. .

    April 8, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • Norm38

      But if they don't condemn other sinners, how can exert power over others, and more importantly, force those sinners to bribe the Church for their "salvation". Religion is all about money and power, not real morality. Jesus never wanted the Church as we know it.

      April 13, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  7. Monty Gaither

    This theistic judge was not trying to help these people, since religion does not make good people out of bad. The history of religion shows that it makes it easier for good people to do bad things.

    His intent was to convert these people.

    April 7, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • It's a tarp!

      While I whole heartedly disagree with what the judge did, I think you, sir, are going waaay off the deep end with this one.

      If anything, it was a misguided attempt to offer alternatives, not a "lololol join my religion lol".

      April 11, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
    • Floyd

      Monty Gaither, that was ridiculous.

      April 26, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
  8. Alan

    It is sad to regard the bible, as the source and dispenser of ethics and value. Look no furthur to justify slavery, ignorance, murder, injustice to females, crime, animal cruelty, tyranny and much more! . Of course if we are filtering and cherry picking... honoring your parents and such (so called biblical ethics) are natural and universal. They exist in every culture and found throughout history. It is sad to use the source of immorality and darkness to teach values!

    March 31, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • omegarising

      Ah another basher who does not know how to keep what they read in context. *sigh*

      April 2, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • It's a tarp!

      @omega: In context? I've read the bible 4 times, cover to cover. That's more than can be said for most christians. If there is one thing I grow excedingly weary of, it's people who take the "good" things from the bible and say "SEE! Moral values!", but when the bad is brought up (stoning disobedient children, etc), they say "oh you are taking it out of context" or "Oh, it's just aligorical". You cannot pick and choose which parts of the bible are "real" and which are fictional and still claim to be a christian.

      Let me share some happy news with you though. If you are able to discern which parts of the bible's stories are truly moral, and which are heinous, than you have displayed an ability to determine right from wrong on your own, without the assistance of 2 thousand year old desert scribblings. Stop giving "god" credit, you did it on your own!

      April 11, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • Chris

      Remember Christians don't believe in any of those laws because of the idea that they were given specifically to Jews and that Jesus's atoning death no longer made them valid. Why would you attack Christians for something that they teach is no longer valid i.e. stoning etc? Jews have a different interpretation altogether, the jurisprudence and talmudic teachings virtually made it impossible to execute anyone, take the infamous disobedient children statute, children arent held accountable for their sins until after they become an adult (their parents are) and once they become an adult they can't be put to death on the basis of this law because they are no longer children. The Rabbis perplexed by this law viewed this as God injecting an academic exercise in the Torah for their benefit.

      April 13, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • CRC

      Alan, you clearly don't understand scripture although I can see why you think you are right. Deeper insight will reveal your error here.

      April 27, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  9. Julia

    What if an Islamic judge offered reading of the koran in exchange for community service? What if a Jewish judge offered reading of the Torah? Or, an Atheist judge offered reading of anti-religious material? A judges personal beliefs should never be imposed (even as an option) on a defendant. Separation of church and state is in place to protect everyone's religious liberty. No one should become a judge if they can't understand this simple human right.

    March 31, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • CCarroll

      Well said

      April 26, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  10. Jan Compton

    I don't understand what the hype is all about. A Bible study book is nothing more than a history lesson. Unless ofcorse these young men and women can't read. Which, unfortunately, is all too common these days.

    March 31, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • Pam Ellis

      A history lesson? Really?
      Some of the cities mentioned actually existed..maybe some of the people.
      But if you think Noah's Ark was real, the Garden of Eden, etc....I don't know what to make of your ability to use rational thought.
      There is just as much history in the Wizard of Oz as there is in the Bible. After all, Kansas really does exist.

      April 6, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
    • CRC

      Well said on the historical value. It is also true that the Bible is the only book written that cannot be proven wrong at all. It is completely historically accurate as is well borne out in archaeology and scientific findings. No other book written can hold to this high standard. Definitely it is the written words of Jesus Christ as stated in the Gospel of John.

      April 27, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
  11. Amanda

    The last time the ~we~ mixed religion/ goverment/ the personal beliefs of individuals and communities people got burned at the stake. This was a totally inappropiate action by the judge. People in places of authority espeically over others, should keep their personal beliefs just that.....personal.

    March 31, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
    • Hal

      Our forefathers must have been really effective in what they were doing to have discovered all the witches and disposed of them. They were so effective that I'm happy to say that I've never even seen a witch! I think they are all extinct. Of course they may still be in hiding liberally applying fire retarded compounds to their clothing waiting to extract revenge.

      Thus says the prophet Bobby Hendersen of the FSM.

      April 1, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • Joan B Szucs

      absolutely right

      April 12, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
  12. Carla

    Congrats to this judge. People in our society today have no ethics nor values. Not everyone, but most. I have seen the changes. When people do bad things, they get a slap on the hand. That isnt going to teach them what is right or wrong. Picking up garbage on the side of the road won't help them do the right thing. The BIBLE is the one and only book God gave to us to read to understand what 'doing right" is all about. It's simply a book of good morals and values. Everyone should be reading it. This country is my country and speaking for my country, it needs help. We need more judges like this one.

    March 31, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • Pam Ellis

      Carla, your feeling that the bible was the one true true book given to humans by god and that it is OK for a Judge to offer the study of it as a way to not do community service won't be relevant until the U.S. becomes a theocracy...which I hope is never.

      Additionally, "It's simply a book of good morals and values" was stated by you. So you think slavery, beating disobedient wives, forcing daughters to marry rapists, women being quiet in church, polygamy, etc... fit into that definition?
      If you want to live in a society where the laws of the land reflect the contents of a religious book, there are several in the Middle East to choose from. Have fun.

      April 6, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  13. Reality

    What the judge needs to read:=======

    Jesus was a bit "touched". After all he thought he spoke to Satan, thought he changed water into wine, thought he raised Lazarus from the dead etc. In today's world, said Jesus (and this judge?) would be declared legally insane.

    Or did P, M, M, L and J simply make him into a first century magic-man via their epistles and gospels of semi-fiction? Most contemporary NT experts after thorough analyses of all the scriptures go with the latter magic-man conclusion with J's gospels being mostly fiction.

    Obviously, today's followers of Paul et al's "magic-man" to include this judge are also a bit on the odd side believing in all the Christian mumbo jumbo about bodies resurrecting, and exorcisms, and miracles, and "magic-man atonement, and infallible, old, European, white men, and 24/7 body/blood sacrifices followed by consumption of said sacrifices.

    March 30, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • James

      Far miore people belive in the myths and legends than you would belive. Spiritually weak people of alll intelligence levels flock to jesus later in life because they have no direction for thier spirituality. One thing is certain, religion has stunted spiritual growth and if jesus could come back, he sure as hell would not be happy with the things done in his name over the centuries. but i guess we only have 28 days to worry about it, according to some of the christian nut jobs.

      April 25, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
    • FossMaNo1

      Reality, would you be willing to identify the source(s) of your statement?:

      "Most contemporary NT experts after thorough analyses of all the scriptures go with the latter magic-man conclusion with J's gospels being mostly fiction."

      I only ask because I've never heard mention of this magic-man theory. Thanks!

      April 26, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • Floyd

      Don't even ask FossMaNo1. Reality is bitter and full of hate in all their posts. One day they will hopefully be a nicer person instead of quoting from sources that are made up. These ‘contemporary NT’ scholars he quotes are only just guessing and making up theories themselves yet Reality does not see the irony or hypocrisy in his rants.

      April 26, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
  14. sealchan

    Better to offer a choice of books including one that is not based in a particular faith. I like the idea though, it opens dialog between the judge and the convicted and educates both. That way sentences are more informed.

    March 30, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • Q

      I agree in a sense. The idea wasn't necessarily a bad one, but what's disturbing is that a "judge" failed to even remotely recognize how unconst-itutional it was to specify a single book promoting a specific religious viewpoint.

      March 30, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • Peace2All


      Yes, I think it was a good idea...in concept, however, the lack of awareness...or... blatant lack of regard for the const-itution shown by the judge is a bit disturbing.


      Agreed, well said.. as always.


      March 30, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • sealchan

      And given that our educational system doesn't seem to want to touch religion with a ten foot pole even in the context of a social science approach, it may be no small wonder that educated people simply haven't a clue about the religious affiliations of those they may professionally work with...

      March 30, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.