‘Serious’ sex offenders can attend church with children present: Judge

The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that individuals considered “serious sex offenders” can attend church even if the facilities offer Sunday school or child care where minors are present.

According to the CNHI Statehouse Reporter, the appellate court overturned a Boone Superior Court ruling that three sex offenders couldn’t attend churches that offered programs that catered to children. In the latest ruling, however, the Court of Appeals determined that churches aren’t “school property” — where sex offenders are prohibited by law.

Three Boone County residents, considered “serious sex offenders” in Indiana, accused the state of violating Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). In their complaint, one plaintiff noted that prosecutors’ interpretation of current laws meant that he couldn’t attend any church in the county, WRTV reported.

ACLU of Indiana Legal Director Ken Falk, who argued on behalf of the three plaintiffs, said that it is the state’s duty when restricting a person’s religious liberties to do it in the least restrictive manner, which he said wasn’t achieved in this case.

“The three plaintiffs in this case were all regular churchgoers, all obtained a lot of meaning from church, all viewed going to church as part of their continuing rehabilitation from their crime and then suddenly they were told that if they went to church they’d be subject to being arrested and prosecuted for committing a felony,” Falk told Indiana Public Media.

Conversely, the state argued that since church-run programs “benefit children,” church buildings are considered school property. They also claimed that the state must prioritize protecting children from being victimized by sex offenders and that preventing offenders from accessing children in church is necessary and is being done in the least restrictive manner possible, according to The Indiana Lawyer.

In her ruling, which can be read below, Judge Margret G. Robb didn’t focus on RFRA but disagreed with the state’s definition of school property.

Accordingly, we reverse the trial court’s order denying Appellants relief and remand with instructions to enter a permanent injunction in favor of Appellants prohibiting the State from arresting and/or prosecuting them for entering their churches,” she concluded.

Before Tuesday’s ruling, Falk said sex offenders’ admittance into Indiana churches depended on the county’s interpretation of the law. He also said that churches aren’t required to inform churchgoers of the offender’s attendance.

“Hopefully, the question will now be settled, so there’s no uncertainty around the state as to whether church attendance is something that’s allowed,” Falk commented.

“I would think that everyone would agree that religious attendance for the reasons that all of us attend houses of worship is a very good thing and particularly a good thing for people who recognize they have committed some serious wrongs in their life.”

[Featured Image: Flickr/Allen Allen]