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In 2018, a handful of students had to cross a rural highway to get on their school bus in Fulton County, Indiana. Despite the safety arm of the school bus extended, signaling to all drivers to stop while kids crossed the road, 24-year-old Alyssa Shepherd ran through it, killing three children from the same family and severely injuring a fourth child.

It was an accident, yes, but a reckless one.

Over a year later, in December of 2019, Shepherd was handed a ten-year sentence. She would spend four years behind bars, three in home detention, and another three on probation. Considering she faced up to 21.5 years behind bars, given the nature of her crimes, this was a surprisingly lenient sentence. But perhaps that’s to be expected for someone without a criminal history whose crime was reckless rather than intentional. There were also ways to cut additional time off of her sentence for things like good behavior, but still, the earliest day she could have been released was September 22, 2022.

That’s why it came as a surprise when Shepherd was released from jail yesterday, six months earlier than even the earliest estimated release date.

Why the reduced time?

Because Shepherd took a Bible study course called “Plus Faith 2.0: Criminal Lifestyle, Attitudes & Behavior,” and that shaved an extra six months off of her sentence.

When the possibility of an early release was raised late last year, the mother of the children Shepherd killed was rightly irate:

Both [Fulton County Prosecutor Mike] Marrs and Brittany Ingle, the mother of the three children killed in the crash, say Shepherd does not deserve the opportunity.

“You wanting a shorter sentence, you act as if their lives didn’t matter. You are saying to us, our family, the community, the nation that their lives didn’t matter,” Ingle said.

Ingle and others gathered Thursday to protest the early release.

“To the woman who killed my children, if you think my kids are beneath you, you’re dead wrong,” Ingle said Thursday.

The outrage didn’t change anything, and Shepherd will now get to move on to the home detention part of her sentencing. Her license remains suspended until 2032. Meanwhile, the family is still in disbelief that a Bible course was enough to cut short her jail time:

Family of the children killed and hurt in the crash said in November that Shepherd had not, at least at that time, attempted to reach out to them or apologize for her actions.

“To this day Shepherd has not taken responsibility for her actions, has never even apologized for killing our children and has never shown remorse for her actions. She received a 6 month reduction in her sentence for simply completing a Bible Study class which we feel was absurd,” family member said in a statement last fall.

Absurd is a generous way to put it.

Why is taking a Bible course enough to cut six months off of someone’s sentence? What’s in the course that merits such a reward? How was Shepherd’s supposed remorse measured? And when we talk about the church/state angle here, what alternatives exist for non-Christians seeking similar treatment?

Without any further information, it appears that Shepherd got out of prison early because she professed faith in Jesus and for no other reason. Christianity was literally her Get Out of Jail Free card.

There’s not much information available at the website for the Indiana Department of Correction regarding this course, and not much information available about it anywhere else either, so people are just left to speculate.

In addition to the trauma that the victims’ family must be dealing with right now, the decision just raises all kinds of questions regarding church/state separation and whether a Christian course allowed a prisoner to spend much less time in prison than a non-Christian who committed the same crimes.

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Hemant Mehta is the founder of FriendlyAtheist.com, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.