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September 23, 2009

Pastor and city leaders fighting over sex offender working at church in California

This local story out of California, which is headlined "Pastor: San Bernardino council ultimatum is unconstitutional," reports on the fascinating details of a brewing constitutional debate involving churches freedom and local sex offender restrictions.  Here are the basics:

Responding to a demand that First Church of the Nazarene ban registered sex offenders or to stop receiving city money to host a youth facility there, the church's pastor contended the ultimatum is an unconstitutional violation of his religious freedom. "I cannot think of anything more antithetical or repugnant to the fundamental values upon which our nation was founded  — freedom of religion, freedom to worship God without interference from the government, freedom to practice Christianity without oppression," Pastor David Rhone wrote Tuesday in a letter to Mayor Pat Morris and the council.

The controversy follows Monday's revelation — through the leak of a confidential memo — that a man convicted of incest and lewd and lascivious conduct with a person younger than 14 performed work at the First Church of the Nazarene.

A police investigation determined that the man's presence at the church did not present a danger to children or that any new crimes were committed.  Nevertheless, the issue is sensitive not only because San Bernardino is in the middle of election season, but because the church hosts San Bernardino's flagship Operation Phoenix youth center.  That center was managed by Mike Miller until Miller's arrest in July 2008 on suspicion of child molestation. Miller has pleaded not guilty and is incarcerated while awaiting trial.  The church also hosts SOAR Charter Academy and Valley Christian Pre-school.

Rhone said Tuesday that he would rather sever the church's relationship with the city than let the government decide who can attend services, but he does not expect that to come to pass. Instead, he expects the council to take back its demand and apologize.  "They've got to reconsider because what they've asked us to do is unlawful," Rhone said.

But City Attorney James F. Penman, whose investigators spent Tuesday passing out fliers reporting a sex offender had performed work at the church, says the council was within its rights to make demands of Rhone's church.  The city attorney said the council did not take over the church's decisions on which sinners can be preached to. Penman maintained the demand is meant to protect children participating in a city-run program and is a condition on partnering with the city.

Penman also thinks Rhone was irresponsible in allowing a known sex offender to perform work near children's facilities. "There's an old saying that comes out of the Bible: `Who is without sin can cast the first stone.' I don't think Pastor Rhone is a position to cast stones."  For his part, Rhone sees Penman's actions as electoral politics.  Penman is challenging incumbent mayor Morris for the city's top job.

Police Chief Keith Kilmer said Tuesday the mere presence of a registered sex offender in an area does not mandate public notification. "The threshold is when someone poses a risk to public safety and that would be based on circumstances that are happening, (such as) if someone is hanging around a school and they have no business there," Kilmer said.

Despite the Police Department view that children were not threatened while on church property, all five council members who were present Monday night voted to present First Church of the Nazarene with the ultimatum. City Councilwoman Wendy McCammack, who recommended the ultimatum to her colleagues, said Tuesday she's not afraid of any legal challenge. "If it's unconstitutional, then I guess he can sue us," she said. "We have a Constitutional responsibility, local, state and federal, to keep city participants safe."

September 23, 2009 at 09:17 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Certainly I would think the city is on solid footing when deciding who to do business with.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Sep 23, 2009 10:10:34 AM

See this article about a news paper posting a "cartoon" of a noose and the title "the only legal loophole fit for a level three sex predator!"

http://www.pnwlocalnews.com/east_king/kir/opinion/60438797.html

Cartoon photo:

http://www.pnwlocalnews.com/east_king/kir/opinion/56412527.html

Posted by: Sex Offender Issues | Sep 23, 2009 10:42:26 AM

Yeah, Soronel, I think that's the issue. He has a right to preach to whomever he wants. He doesn't have a right to city business. Having said that, based on what's in the article this clearly doesn't have to do with what's best for kids but what is best for the adults running for office.

Posted by: Daniel | Sep 23, 2009 3:06:56 PM

Some clarification for those who wish it:

1. The offender did the deed. It cost him 6 years in prison followed by 6 years of parole. Upon completing parole, he became a free man able to go to any school where he had legit business or any other place where there are kids. His level of offense was not high enough to warrant a lifetime ban on access to children.
2. He never had any contact with kids at any time while on the church property. He made a point to let people know of his history in order to protect himself and others.
3. He never worked for the church but was hired by a contractor to work on a remodle project.
4. He moved on his own to another city to accept a job.
5. The PD investigated and determined that he never posed a threat to anyone.
6. He live in complete shame for his crime and is very remorseful.
7. Based on his freedom and the opinion of the PD, there was never a need to notify anyone of his past. He deserves a level of privacy.
8. I believe in redemption. Without it, I would be lost.

Grace and peace to you all.

Pastor David Rhone

Posted by: David Rhone | Sep 23, 2009 7:23:17 PM

Our organization resently had word from the Father to go to war. He's starting a war on sexual abuse and pornography. He was insistant on us being aware the abusers and tormenters were His children also. It is His heart to redeem these children too. Being that we all have children of our own, it took a great deal of meditation and prayer to get our hearts around His plan. We are in the process of collecting names and addresses from the Sex Offence Registry to send letters to all these people to let them know of the redemptive powers of our Savior and to let them know their God has not given up on them. We need to stop condemning these people and go against the real problem, which is Satan. Never underestimate the Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of our God. I'm sure our organization is not the only one who has received this word. We trust our God to work this out to His will. God's Blessings.

Posted by: Mt. Zion Sisters in Christ | Sep 28, 2009 8:13:35 AM

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