Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Here’s an absurd story. A judge in Ohio gave a man accused of using a stolen credit card a lower bond than he otherwise would have after quizzing him and making him recite a Bible verse. Details below the fold:

When he appeared this morning before Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge John Burlew, Hine’s attorney was hoping for a low bond for Hine and told the judge he was a churchgoer who works fulltime at a company that makes wine racks.

Because judges hear all kinds of stories from lawyers and defendants hoping for low bonds, Burlew wanted to test Hine on his claim of attending an Avondale church.

So, Burlew told Hine to recite the 23rd Psalm.

“The Lord is my Shepard; I shall not want,” Hine told the judge.

Impressed but still skeptical, Burlew told Hine if he could recite the entire passage, he would let him out of jail.

Hine then reeled off all six verses and 118 words – and even drew some applause from those sitting in the courtroom.

Burlew was true to his word and released Hine on a $10,000 unsecured appearance bond. That meant Hine had to sign a bond to promise to pay $10,000 if he didn’t make his next court appearance in the case.

Completely, absolutely and in all other ways inappropriate. A person accused of a crime who claims to be a churchgoer should carry no more weight than if they claim to be a satanist, an atheist or the reincarnation of Abraham Lincoln. This judge needs to be admonished, at the very least, for his actions here.

Hat tip to Howard Friedman.


  1. #1 Disgusted Beyond Belief
    April 27, 2007

    As an atheist, I fully agree with you that religion should not be used as a get out of jail free card.

    However, I don’t quite see the story that way. Maybe because I’ve read so many trial transcripts and seen so much b.s. spew from the mouths of defendants when it comes time for sentencing and such. I think this isn’t as much about him being a churchgoer as about the judge rewarding him for honesty – i.e. the judge perhaps hears a lot of b.s. stories, and so essentially said, “prove you are not lying and I’ll give you a break” and so he proved he wasn’t a liar. In a sea of lies, honesty can be refreshing.

    In the end, I agree, it still smacks a bit too much like a religious bonus, but I think it was more about honesty than religion.

  2. #2 Rob Knop
    April 27, 2007

    I agree with the comment — it does sound like this was a case of testing the claim rather than administering the religious test.

    On the other hand, the guy is found guilty of a crime. He says, “I am a churchgoer and have a fulltime job,” or he says, “I give a lot of money to charity,” or he says, “Everybody I meet says I’m really funny,” and the response should be, “so freaking what? You broke the law, I don’t care who you are, you’re going to jail.”

    The only kinds of “extenuating circumstances” that should be relevant shouldn’t have anything to do with how upstanding the guy in question is. If the guy is a repeat offender (i.e. he’s the opposite of upstanding), then a harsher penalty is called for. If many other people are going to be hurt (“I’m the only support for my seventeen children”), then, perhaps, a lighter sentence should be considered.


  3. #3 Robert
    April 27, 2007

    I agree that this sounds more like the judge was trying to catch the guy in his own BS, but I do think its highly inappropriate to give him a lesser sentence just because he can recite some words.

  4. #4 Michael Suttkus, II
    April 27, 2007

    As they say, even the devil can quote scripture to his purpose. I wonder if the judge would let him out on bail as well. :-)

    Hmm, honesty? So, if I honestly declare I’m a biped…

  5. #5 TomS
    April 27, 2007

    This reminds me of “Benefit of Clergy”, originally that clerics were not subject to the law of the state, and over the years, this turned into a test of literacy (because the only literate people – meaning “literate in Latin” -were clerics).

    As usual, Wikipedia has an article on “Benefit of Clergy”.

  6. #6 egbooth
    April 27, 2007

    Wow…I wouldn’t be surprised if this case inspired a new reality TV show on Fox. Think of it as a combination of the People’s Court and Jeopardy.

    At least they would get a lot of autistic savants to watch it.

  7. #7 Bourgeois_rage
    April 27, 2007

    It didn’t work the second time.

  8. #8 RickD
    April 27, 2007

    I think this isn’t as much about him being a churchgoer as about the judge rewarding him for honesty.

    You’ve got to be joking.

  9. #9 KeithB
    April 27, 2007

    Isn’t the judge just trying to see if he is a flight risk?

    Having strong connections to the community is one the the factors that might lessen you flight risk, right? I think the judge was establishing that he *was* a church goer and therefore had a stake in sticking around.

    Of course the 23rd Psalm is memorized by a lot of non-church-goers! Even the Elephant Man. 8^)

  10. #10 kehrsam
    April 27, 2007

    Guys, we’re not talking about sentencing here, it was a bail bond hearing. The only issue befiore the judge is the liklihood that the defendant will appear for trial. Having lived in the area for an extended time, having a job, local family, and involvement in local institutions (including church) are all factors which make it more likely the guy will show. In most jurisdictions, the judge making the bail determination may consider ANY evidence (none of which is under oath).

    So the weird thing about this is the judge making the guy prove it. I assume he doesn’t look like the type to get up on Sunday mornings. The other thing that gets me is I knew the 23rd Psalm by heart many years before I became a Christian and started attending church: It was read over the intercom every morning at my (public) elementary school. So I fail to see a valid test here.

  11. #11 Scott Simmons
    April 27, 2007

    “On the other hand, the guy is found guilty of a crime.”

    “I do think its highly inappropriate to give him a lesser sentence just because he can recite some words.”

    Just do make everything clear, this guy does not appear to have been found guilty or sentenced. This was a preliminary hearing after indictment … I can’t bring myself to be outraged over this. Bail/bond is set based on the judge’s assessment of the defendant’s flight risk, and one component of that assessment is the person’s connection to the community. A committed member of a local organization, whether it is a church, a club, a business, whatever, is less likely to flee the jurisdiction (leaving all of that behind forever) than someone without such strong roots. So naturally, anyone hoping for a low bond to be set will claim to have such connections, and any judge will look for evidence to back up the claim. It’s kind of a goofy situation, but as long as churches continue to be significant organizations that are important in people’s lives, then church membership will be a factor for judges to consider in setting bail.

  12. #12 Luxury Yacht
    April 27, 2007

    Being able to recite a bible verse does not prove that he actually attended church.

  13. #13 Poly
    April 27, 2007

    The bail system in the US sucks. Almost uniformly, poor -usually minority – defendents end up incarcerated because they can’t make bail, while relatively well-off defendents or even those with some standing in the community can walk out under the same charges. Often the latter remain relatively unimpeded in their movements until they are actually found guilty and sentenced and all appeals are exhausted.

    Although all persons who are merely charged with a crime are presumed innocent, the poor ones tend to end up in jail anyway. It is a fact that the most common sentence these days after a finding of guilty is ‘time served’, and, of course, those found not guilty get no recompense for their ‘time served’.

    And pre-trial custody is almost always ‘nasty time’, served in poorly managed facilities with few amenities for what are still considered to be innocent persons.

    So I’m glad that in this particular instance, a judge made a mockery of what is a nonsensical system.

  14. #14 Stuart Coleman
    April 27, 2007

    I wonder where all the right-wingers who usually cry “activism!” are on this one.

  15. #15 itchy
    April 27, 2007

    I know it makes me feel a lot better when the guy who stole my credit card also attends church.

  16. #16 David Durant
    April 27, 2007

    The entire idea of the judiciary is for them to be independent and tenured for life. It’s not like politicians who can be kicked out at the next election.

    So, my question is is there any way built into the American system of civics that lets “the people” petition those who preside over the judiciary (more senior judges?) to point out when they rule on inappropriate things such as this?

  17. #17 Poly
    April 27, 2007


    …is there any way built into the American system of civics that lets “the people” petition those who preside over the judiciary (more senior judges?) to point out when they rule on inappropriate things such as this?

    Short answer – no. Oh, you can petition all you want – almost all jurisdictions have some sort of judicial ethics panel that will receive and look into complaints of judicial misconduct. But it generally takes some fairly egregious behavior – which really isn’t the case here – for them to move to actual procedings.

    Besides which, it is quite possible that many of the judges sitting on that panel would agree with how this particular judge handled this bail application. I’ve personally seen a lot worse stuff than this at these hearings.

  18. #18 David Durant
    April 27, 2007

    > I’ve personally seen a lot worse stuff than this at these
    > hearings.

    Back to Alley McBeal and the judge who always wanted to see the condition of the defendants teeth..?

  19. #19 Dr X
    April 27, 2007

    Completely inappropriate regardless of the reason.

  20. #20 Crudely Wrott
    April 28, 2007

    It was the applause, I tell ya. That’s what did it! Idol worship, that is. Tribal, mysterious, seductive, entrancing and pretty stoopid. They only hear the clapping.

  21. #21 Crudely Wrott
    April 28, 2007

    If there is, constitutionally, no religious test for elected office,and, given that this is held in general agreement, why is there a test for “citizenship” that looks like a religious test and is taking place before our eyes?

    It is either one for all and all for one or it is simply every man for himself.

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