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October 7, 2009

"Banned from churches, sex offenders go to court"

The title of this post is the headline of this AP article, which spotlights the troublesome intersection of modern hyper-regulation of sex offenders and the need for sex offenders to try to get on with a law-abiding life:

Convicted sex offender James Nichols said he was trying to better himself by going to church. But the police who arrested him explained: The church is off-limits because it has a daycare center.

Now Nichols is challenging North Carolina's sex-offender laws in a case that pits the constitutional right to religious freedom against the state's goal of protecting the public from child molesters. "I just started asking the question, 'Why? Why am I being treated this way after trying to better myself?'" said Nichols, a 31-year-old who was twice convicted of indecent liberties with a teen girl and again in 2003 for attempted second-degree rape. "The law gives you no room to better yourself."

At issue in Nichols' case and a similar one in Georgia are day care centers and youth programs at houses of worship where sex offenders can come into proximity with children.  Sex offender advocates agree some convicts should not be allowed around children, but they contend barring all offenders denies them support needed to become productive citizens. "Criminalizing the practice of religion for everyone on the registry will do more harm than good," said Sara Totonchi, policy director for the Southern Center for Human Rights. "With these laws, states are driving people on the registry from their faith community and depriving them of the rehabilitative influence of the church."

Thirty-six states establish zones where sex offenders cannot live or visit.  Some states provide exemptions for churches but many do not.  In December, North Carolina state legislators barred sex offenders from coming within 300 feet of any place intended primarily for the use, care or supervision of minors....

Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, said preventing offenders from attending religious services is another in a series of increasingly unforgiving laws adopted across the country. Some of the laws have pushed offenders out of homes and entire communities. "This case is part of a much larger group of cases dealing with the expansive sex-offender laws," Turley said. "The state cannot sentence someone to a life of being an agnostic or an atheist without violating the constitution."

Some question whether the restrictive laws will lead to more crime. "It's not clear that there's any public-safety purpose to these laws.  They continue to ostracize previous sex offenders in a way that could be dangerous in the end," said Sarah Tofte, a legal researcher with Human Rights Watch. "If they can successfully transition to the community, to include going to church, they are less likely to reoffend."

Some lawmakers say offenders such as Nichols should blame themselves for breaking the law in the first place. "I'm not denying him the right to go to church. He denied himself that," said state Sen. David Hoyle, the Democrat who sponsored the North Carolina bill. "If they are a convicted pedophile, they have given up a lot of their rights." 

Church leaders feel caught between leading houses of worship where broken people can seek help and preventing criminals from exploiting a place of trust....  "I think everybody deserves a chance," said Shawn Cox, 28, a married father of two who says his faith helped steer him away from drug dealing and crime. "God turned my life around," said Cox. "I'm not saying that you bring the guy in and put him over the youth program or the youth ministry as soon as he walks in the door. But there's no way he can overcome these things without help and support."

This seems like a sentencing sentencing in which it might be especially appropriate to ask "What Would Jesus Do?". 

October 7, 2009 at 04:54 PM | Permalink

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Comments

"If they can successfully transition to the community, to include going to church, they are less likely to reoffend."

The problem with well meaning statements like this is that they subtly imply that SO are likely to reoffend. They are not. Even the worst case scenarios say that only 25% will reoffend and actual data shows about a 5% rate.

The truth of the matter is that even so called critics of SO laws buy into the mythology of reoffense.

Posted by: Daniel | Oct 7, 2009 5:26:02 PM

From your headline I have to wonder if a court building includes family court, if they would be banned from attending their own hearings.

Posted by: . | Oct 7, 2009 6:25:09 PM

"What Would Jesus Do?"

I believe he would refrain from molesting children.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 7, 2009 7:39:35 PM

http://i36.tinypic.com/2uts2rm.jpg

BO would convene a grand jury and SWAT Jesus's shack.

Posted by: . | Oct 7, 2009 7:53:17 PM

The knee-jerk ignorance of one who claims to be a respected member of the bar knows no boundaries.

1) Well, if "Jesus" said it, by all means, let's keep DWI's out of cars for life, robbers out of convenience and liquor stores, embezzlers out of white-collar jobs, cattle thieves out of the rural areas, copper thieves away from A/C compressors, drug possessors out of pharmacies. . .etc. . .I'm sure we can extend this until everyone is under government restriction in one form or another.

2) Where does Jesus show that all the former sex offenders who are on the registry victimized children in their past?

3) Maybe Jesus doesn't "believe" in the Double Jeopardy Clause, or Due Process? Let's just pass another law hitting an unpopular class of former offenders with every legislative session; it feels so good and right. (I don't wish to hear any "non-punitive" BS).

4) It must be smugly self-satisfying in the extreme to be so "righteous."

Posted by: Mark #1 | Oct 7, 2009 8:38:45 PM

Funny pic and caption, .

Posted by: Mark | Oct 7, 2009 8:40:52 PM

"BO would convene a grand jury and SWAT Jesus's shack."

I don't believe Barack Obama would do any such thing, but maybe you have inside information.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 7, 2009 9:49:44 PM

personally a statement like this one!

""I'm not denying him the right to go to church. He denied himself that," said state Sen. David Hoyle, the Democrat who sponsored the North Carolina bill. "If they are a convicted pedophile, they have given up a lot of their rights."

tells me this so-called senator is either an IDIOT or a TRATOR!. When this idiot made this statment ANYONE present should have DEMANDED HE SHOW SPECIFICLY WHERE HE FOUND THIS RULE IN THE CONSTITUTION.'

for his sake i hope he's just an IDIOT! Since last time i looked bush's war on terrorism hasn't been repealed and TREASON in WARTIME is punishable by DEATH!

Posted by: rodsmith3510 | Oct 7, 2009 11:42:44 PM

I am completing my post-bac paralegal certificate, having a need to find another career choice because I am a white collar felon who has been ostracized from the white collar world. I work for a criminal defense lawyer part-time at $10.00/hour because I can find no other employment. But, thank goodness, I am not a SO, because the prospects for housing and a livlihood would look even dimmer.

There is an excellent article written in 2007 by the Director of the International Center for Comparative Criminology of the University of Montreal, Jean Paul Brodeur (36 Crime & Just. 49). Brodeur decries the U.S. notion of criminal "justice," which in effect, is no longer moral punishment, but immoral neutralization. Sentences, in effect, become life sentences, because the offender never in fact pays his debt to society, but rather becomes ensnared "into a web of surveillance" in a "process of physical and civil incapacitation without termination." And, interestingly, this type of sentencing in perpetuity has not significantly reduced the crime rate in the U.S. as compared to countries with less severe approaches.

The irony of the immorality of the "moral" majority is mostly lost on the American public. And it is difficult to have a national dialogue on the topic, as Senator Webb has tried to do, because most Americans do not understand the system and its impact, and frankly do not care - until they or their family member is thrust into the system.

Posted by: Juana | Oct 8, 2009 10:43:46 AM

"What Would Jesus Do?"

Jesus would believe in redemption, which these sex offender laws essetially prohibit.

Posted by: wwjd | Oct 8, 2009 11:21:35 AM

wwjd --

You don't need to go to church, much less a particular church, to be redeemed.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 8, 2009 11:35:16 AM

if you are truly redeemed, then you should be able to go wherever you want. these laws continue to chastize and segregate people, making it impossible for them to ever trully feel redeemed.

Posted by: wwjd | Oct 8, 2009 12:32:49 PM

More smug, judgmental blather from a pious, pitiless authoritarian of the sort that seem to be overly represented among the hierarchy of the "justice system."

juana's right. Most Americans don't understand or care about the cruelties and injustices of the system until they or their family members are consumed by them.

Oppression is palpable when otherwise level-headed, well-educated Americans find themselves feeling sorry for ex-con SOs.

Then there's all the low-level white-collar business people being strong-armed into plea agreements for guilt-by-association RICO crimes after reckless, ruthless federal sweeps.

Even those who somehow avoid prison and bankruptcy walk around for the rest of their lives with "felon" stamped on their resumes and all that that entails.

Throwing so many people away is bound to have severe consequences for society even beyond the burdensome "criminal justice system" costs that are only now starting to attract attention.

Posted by: John K | Oct 8, 2009 1:23:08 PM

Bill O.: You dodged the question. The question wasn't what would Jesus do re molesting children himself. The question was what would Jesus do with other people who have molested children. My Bible says he would turn the other cheek and would welcome these least of his brothers back to the fold.

Posted by: Christian lawyer | Oct 8, 2009 3:01:31 PM

John K, I once heard someone say that "mass incarceration is the indulgence of only rich countries." Along those same lines, I wonder if our criminal justice system is eroding the fabric, strength and vitality of American society and the economy by destroying the prospects and usefulness of such a large segment of the population. Though the law enforcement/prison-industrial complex is surely doing fine under the current system, thank you, that segment of the economy is not really "producing" anything of external value.

Posted by: Mark #1 | Oct 8, 2009 3:04:22 PM

Juana you said "I am a white collar felon who has been ostracized from the white collar world." and went on to quote from a previous article, "Sentences, in effect, become life sentences, because the offender never in fact pays his debt to society."

Your situation is typical of many thousands in similar circumstances and that quote and this one from John, "Most Americans don't understand or care about the cruelties and injustices of the system until they or their family members are consumed by them".
are exactly right.

Just read a commentary at the-slammer.org that may interest you concerning the Second Chance for Ex-Offenders Act.Those folks would probably welcome someone with a little legal access that had a real reason to join the fight for relief from this travesty that some call "justice."

Posted by: HadEnough | Oct 8, 2009 6:58:44 PM

John K --

"More smug, judgmental blather from a pious, pitiless authoritarian of the sort that seem to be overly represented among the hierarchy of the 'justice system.'"

Glad to see that YOU'RE avoiding judgmentalism, or anything like that.

Yikes.

And if it's piety you want, look no farther than the death penalty opponents who routinely praise themselves as an enlightened breed while bringing an arrogant, holier-than-thou attitude toward the large majority of their fellow citizens who disagree with them.

P.S. The purpose of litigation is to render judgment. It's a bit hard to to that without being "judgmental."

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 8, 2009 7:33:34 PM

Christian lawyer --

"You dodged the question. The question wasn't what would Jesus do re molesting children himself."

But that is a question worth asking when the subject is what attitude society should take toward child molestors.

"The question was what would Jesus do with other people who have molested children."

And the anwwer is: You don't know. Your introducing yourself as a Christian does not ordain you as an expert on what God thought or thinks. Indeed the usual view of people who proclaim that they have a pipeline to God superior to that available to others is that they could benefit from professional help.

"My Bible says he would turn the other cheek and would welcome these least of his brothers back to the fold."

What the Bible says, Mr. Christian lawyer, is that Jesus would turn the other cheek when HE was assaulted, not when A CHILD was assaulted, much less sexually assaulted.

And the question is not whether Jesus would welcome criminals back to the fold; the question is what risks other members of the fold, children in particular, can be required to bear on the say-so of adults who, by virtue of their maturity, are not potential victims. How easy it is to be magnanimous when it's someone else who pays the price.

More generally, the idea of an undifferentiated, mushy, blanket forgiveness of trangessors as the thing "Jesus would do" is so much tripe. Its major flaw is not in trying to bully opposing viewpoints by invoking religion, although that's bad enough. Its major flaw is that it's nonsense. Carried to its logical endpoint, it would pretermit ANY PUNISHMENT AT ALL, since we should all be turning the other cheek.

Maybe that's how it would work in a Christian theocracy (although I doubt it, and there's no historical evidence supporting it). But this country is not a theocracy, Christian or otherwise. It is a democracy. Thus, as the Framers wisely intended, it is not a question of what Jesus (or Moses or Muhammed) would do; it's a question of what the electorate would do.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 8, 2009 8:05:08 PM

The electorate would tear child molesters limb from limb on mere accusation. We are probably better off that such impulses are restrained.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Oct 9, 2009 12:48:06 AM

Soronel Haetir --

"The electorate would tear child molesters limb from limb on mere accusation."

What's the evidence for that? Dozens if not hundreds of people are accused of child molestation every month in this country, and I have yet to hear of their being torn "limb from limb." Where's the evidence?

"We are probably better off that such impulses are restrained."

In fact they are restrained in the USA, pretty much 100%. If you want to find where child molestors actually ARE torn limb from limb (or beheaded, dismembered or castrated, etc.), you might look, not to democracies like the United States, but to theocracies like Iran. It was for just this reason that I questioned Christian lawyer's attempt to import his version of Christian religious doctrine as the secular law of this country.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 9, 2009 11:26:36 AM

I doubt that you really have much fire for "questioning" Christian lawyer attempt at whatever. If the U.S. were a theocratic thuggery like Iran, Your types would be leading the mob. Hysterical, demagogic drumbeats for whatever your types label as "justice" change little with the setting.

Posted by: Mark#1 | Oct 10, 2009 10:15:39 AM

"mass incarceration is the indulgence of only rich countries."

At first I thought this an insightful comment. Then I thought of North Korea.

Posted by: Steve | Oct 10, 2009 4:44:04 PM

I'm not sure that North Korea really fits into the society of bona fide functional countries. I perceive that country as a big clusterfuck, waiting around for the psychopath-in-charge to die off. At present, North Korea is being fed by various food donation mechanisms, is it not?

Posted by: Mark#1 | Oct 11, 2009 5:07:31 AM

Churches could scheduled services for FELONS ONLY, no children. A solution to the problem. Ya think?

Posted by: Myra | Oct 14, 2009 10:33:24 AM

Well let's be clear, a convicted pedophile is completely different from a convicted sex offender. Not every sex offender out there is or can be labeled a predator, and some peoples comments are leaning in that direction. A child molester certainly deserves to be banned from some public areas without a chance of the laws being changed. But your run of the mill pervert that took liberties too far with Jane or John Smith does not mean THAT person should be banned under the same strict rulings as the pedophile/child molester. Life is full of gray areas, this situation does get lost in that area. Well, some of it does anyway. The "What would Jesus do?" statement aside, seriously, as a country founded on Christian faith and principles, where do we draw the line with offenders and their desire to better themselves by being allowed in church. Oh, so that one church you want to go to has a daycare and you can't go in? Well I'm sure there are half a dozen others that don't have a daycare in them and you can go there. But then what about the Sunday school's and the youth programs? There will most likely be youth of all ages on site any given Sunday regardless of daycare facilities or not. So, do we say we are Christians and not act like one? Or do we provide the opportunity to show them there is a reason to change. The congregation should be made aware, and either unite to bring this person to God, or oppose and turn that person away, maybe further giving them reason to believe that there truly is no reason for them to need to change since no one thinks they can. Church and state are supposed to be separate, yet courts and lawmakers rule that one cannot enter where God treads. Maybe some compassionate priest or pastor could volunteer himself or herself to give an hour a week to any offenders that would like church service somewhere neutral that gave them a place to worship. Let's not lower ourselves to a place we would regret being, by judging when it's truly not our place and by keeping someone that needs it, from the God that brought them into this world ...and He will definitely choose where they can be when their journey ends.

Posted by: jennifer | Nov 8, 2009 9:34:41 PM

i think WWJD is completely irrelevant in this particular case, yes they are talking about a convicted child molester going to church around a daycare center where many children will likely be... but you shouldnt base your countries laws on false prophecy. and considering there probably wasnt a proper form of child molestation charges when jesus was around so WWJD is a completely stupid and outdated question.

Posted by: mike poole | Nov 9, 2009 1:16:15 PM

Having only dealt with the "justice" system once in our entire family history, I find that it has entirely nothing to do with JUSTICE at all in any form or fashion. It is a BUSINESS like any other and is only about MONEY AND POWER. Justice and fairness have nothing to do with anything at all. Those throwing around God's name and the Church which is the Bride of Christ have no knowledge either of what they speak. They are hypocrites trying to prove their OWN points. Shame on them all. May God forgive us all for throwing our outrageous ideas in His Face. Come quickly Lord Jesus. I am so tired of this world and the people in it and I hold myself above no one else. I'm just as bad as the next person. If Jesus himself walked into the room, we would argue with Him because we don't know what the Bible says or what He wants.

Posted by: Watson | Aug 17, 2010 5:43:10 PM

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