Texas judge puts woman in church

February 10, 1994|By Fort Worth Star-Telegram

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Noting what he called a breakdown in America's religious and family values, U.S. District Judge David Belew Jr. has ordered a woman and her four children to attend Sunday church services for a year as part of a probation agreement in a drug case.

"I just thought it would do the woman good to get her and her family in church and do what the Good Lord says," Judge Belew said yesterday.

The judge, co-founder of a nondenominational church in Fort Worth, also said, "I believe the whole trouble with this country is the moral breakdown of the family and that people aren't going to church and worshiping God."

Emma Jean Oliver, who was facing a maximum $250,000 fine and three-year sentence in a federal penitentiary for a drug-related felony, said the judge's decision was an answer to her prayers.

"I think it was a blessing. And as for the judge, I think he's a wonderful, loving, kind man," Oliver, 29, said from her home in Wichita Falls.

Oliver said that she and the judge hugged after the sentencing and that he told her, "Don't go having any more kids without a husband."

She said she was not upset by the comment. "I understood what he was saying. A lot more people need to be told that," Oliver said.

Judge Belew said he made the comment because "I'm just tired of those unwed mothers having children and being on welfare. I'm very opposed to these children being born out of wedlock and nobody being able to support them except for the government. That's what's wrong with this country right now; there's too much of this going on."

Oliver said that she mixed with the wrong crowd and became involved in a drug ring stretching from Amarillo to Wichita Falls.

In May, she and 22 other people were arrested, all on drug charges.

Judge Belew's court has jurisdiction from Fort Worth to Wichita Falls.

Oliver's charges were reduced, and she pleaded guilty in to having knowledge of drug activity and not alerting authorities.

She appeared before the judge Monday and was accompanied by her three young daughters and a 14-year-old son who has been diagnosed as being mildly retarded.

After being told that Oliver was the sole provider for her children and the daughter of a Baptist preacher, Judge Belew said that he decided to stray from federal recommendations for a prison term and instead give Oliver a five-year probated sentence.

She and her children, however, must attend church and Sunday school services each week, unless illness or other major problems keep them away. A probation officer will make sure that Oliver lives up to her part of the bargain, Judge Belew said.

"She's a good woman," he said. "I thought if the children got into Sunday school, and she into church, it would be beneficial to all of them."

Oliver already faces one setback. After pleading guilty to the felony charge, she returned to Wichita Falls on Tuesday to find that she had been fired from the laundromat where she had worked for eight years.

Judge Belew said he does not believe that he has violated provisions of the First Amendment or the constitutional guarantees separating church and state.

"I think we've gone too far on this separation of church and state. This country was founded on religious freedom, and it's getting to where we have less and less of it," he said.

He said he expects to receive some flak, especially from people who believe that religion has no place in government.

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