Effective July 1, teens under the age of 18 who break curfew laws in Trenton, New Jersey, will be sent not to the local police department, but to churches for religious counseling.
The change, according to NJ.com, is a response to several recent shootings, two of which killed minors in the past three months. While teens were slain during the day, other shootings took place after curfew hours and Police Director Ernest Parrey Jr. reports that a number of teens have been involved in recent crimes.
“The way I look at it is, what is the better idea: You get woken up in the middle of the night for bringing your child home or you get woken up in the middle of the night to get a terrible notification that your child isn’t coming home,” he said to The Trentonian.
If a teen is found out past midnight, the police will take him or her to a local church or faith-based organization, which will reportedly offer counseling and aid. The teen's parents will then be contacted to collect their child. According to The Trentonian, the new curfew laws will help increase community policing. Parrey believes that curfews often aren't enforced due to a shortage of manpower. But, by involving the community, he believes it's possible to decrease crime.
However, this move has sparked controversy across the nation. Non-profit group Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which boasts itself as the largest association of atheists and agnostics, released a statement thoroughly objecting to Trenton's new policy, saying it violates the constitutional separation of church and state.
"This proposal is an egregious violation of the First Amendment, since it is a bedrock principle of constitutional law that the state cannot coerce citizens to participate in religious practices," said FFRF staff attorney Andrew Seidel in a letter to Parrey.
FFRF maintains that such a policy legally cannot be implemented and that it shows a clear favoritism toward religion.
"It's baffling that a secular police department should try to implement such an idea," said Co-President Dan Barker in the statement. "Trenton police should realize that theological counseling is not acceptable."