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April 1, 2009

Federal judge blocks enforcement of Georgia law prohibiting sex offenders from volunteering in church

As detailed in this local article, federal district judge on Monday "granted a preliminary injunction that overturns a provision of Georgia’s sex offender law [that] prohibited registered sex offenders from volunteering in churches." Here are more details from the article:

The Southern Center for Human Rights challenged the constitutionality of the restriction, saying it criminalized protected religious activity. The center has a pending lawsuit against Gov. Sonny Perdue which also challenges a restriction that would prevent sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school bus stop. That restriction is also on hold, pending the outcome of the court case.

U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper wrote in a ruling that church activity was recognized by state correction officials as a benefit for convicted criminals that helps reduce recidivism. "Allowing plaintiffs to continue to participate in their faith communities will further public safety by providing support, stability and a grounded sense of right and wrong," Cooper wrote.

Cooper found the law banning sex offenders from volunteering in churches to be unconstitutionally vague, according to Sarah Geraghty, an attorney with the Southern Center of Human Rights. "It was the only way to rule consistent with the Constitution," Geraghty said. " Certain people on the registry should not work with children in a church setting or elsewhere, but criminalizing the practice of religion does more harm than good, and that’s what this statute did," Geraghty said. Geraghty said the law would make participating in Bible study a crime for sex offenders punishable by 10 to 30 years in prison.

The full ruling in Whitaker v. Perdue, No. 4:06-CV-0140-CC (N.D. Ga. March 30, 2009), can be accessed at this link.

April 1, 2009 at 09:18 AM | Permalink

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Politicians want votes, and the media wants business, and stirring up a "sex offender frenzy," whether the facts are correct or not, gets both what they want. When you have a 22-year-old who was never in trouble with the law before, who talked about sex with a detective ambiguously portraying her age as anywhere from 18 to "I will be 16 in two months," and the 22-year-old never met with the "girl," but is in jail and will be labeled a sex offender for life (with people, like many bloggers, who want to line him up and shoot him), the law protects no one and harms many. The money used to incarcerate and register would be much better spent on education. I have worked in colleges and universities my entire life, and believe me, most of the students don't know the particulars of the law. For example, in this instance, the 22-year-old did not realize that if he never met the girl, it would still be a crime. How many people know, off the top of their heads, when the legal age of consent changed from 15 to 16 in Georgia? Probably not many. To have a law that says that this young man cannot live near a church, or volunteer in one, is beyond ridiculous. While awaiting trial, he did Meals on Wheels through his church!

Posted by: common sense | Apr 29, 2009 8:52:24 AM

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