A newly elected Houston judge who says he was merely trying to "think outside the box" when he suggested that convicts in his court read a Christian book to avoid community service has decided to stop the practice after critics blasted the idea.
Judge John Clinton, a former police officer who was elected in January to preside over Harris County Criminal Court No. 4, offered nine people the chance to avoid community service last week by instead reading "The Heart of the Problem," a Bible study book by Henry Brandt and Kerry L. Skinner that "proselytizes Christianity and advocates turning to God to solve problems," according to a March 29 letter from officials at the Texas branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.
But Clinton said he has since stopped offering the option as an alternative way to get defendants convicted of misdemeanors ranging from domestic assault to drug possession on the right track.
"I have stopped the book, and [am] looking for something similar that I can offer to everyone," Clinton said in an email to FoxNews.com.
Clinton, who was unavailable for further comment since he was in court, told KVUE.com that he was not attempting to force religious beliefs on anyone.
"All I was trying to do was help," he told the website. "I was told about the book. I received the book. I read the book. I thought, 'Hey this is a great book.' Again, me thinking based on my faith, not thinking in general."
Lisa Graybill, legal director for the ACLU's Texas affiliate, told FoxNews.com she's glad the practice has stopped, but added that it never should have started.
"It is inexplicable to me how anyone with a law degree could think that what this judge was doing was constitutional," Graybill said Tuesday. "Thinking with his faith is not what he's elected to do. When he dons the robe and takes the bench, his obligation is to think as a judge."
Graybill commended Clinton for "thinking outside the box" regarding alternative penalties for defendants in his courtroom, but said it was "inappropriate and unconstitutional" for him to coerce his religious beliefs onto others.
Despite Clinton's move to stop the short-lived practice, Graybill said an investigation by Judge Sherman Ross, the presiding judge of the county's criminal courts, is still warranted.
"It takes a lot to surprise me and this surprised even me," she said. "It's the most egregious case I'm aware of [regarding judges injecting religious beliefs into the courtroom], assuming the facts are as reported to us."
Ross told FoxNews.com he had not yet received the ACLU's letter, but said he had a discussion with Clinton regarding his "inappropriate" courtroom behavior.
"Technically, [Graybill] is correct," Ross said. "In Clinton's defense, being on the bench for less than four months, he's been experimenting with a number of things that help in the rehabilitation process. That said, I did have a chat with him and we both agreed that although not unethical, it was inappropriate and he understands completely."
Ross said he had "faith in [Clinton] to do the right thing," adding that the judge never intended to push his religious beliefs on anyone.
"We're here to enforce man's law," said Ross, who added there will not be a formal investigation into the matter.
Meanwhile, Stanley Schneider, a criminal defense attorney in Houston, told KVUE.com that Clinton should be praised for the idea.
"I think this is a man that we really need to get behind," he told the website. "Anyone who wants to take the [initiative], and trying to do something to help people in his courtroom to succeed in life, he's someone we need to applaud."