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July 6, 2015

ACLU argues Indiana's new religious freedom law protects sex offenders seeking church access

ReligiousLibertyAs reported in this interesting local article, headlined "ACLU: RFRA must let sex offenders worship at churches with schools," a new lawsuit in Indiana is creating a new stir surrounding the state's controversial new state religious liberty law. Here are the details:

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed Wednesday what appears to be the first lawsuit that invokes the state's new new Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Their clients? Registered sex offenders who believe their religious freedom is being denied by another new law that bans them from attending any church located on the same property as a school.

"This is a prime example as a place where people's religious rights are being burdened, and therefore under RFRA the state has to justify that," said ACLU of Indiana legal director Ken Falk. "It makes no sense to ban people on a Sunday if there are kids there on a Thursday." For example, that would be the case with church preschools or parochial schools with adjacent churches....

The lawsuit was filed in Elkhart Superior Court, on behalf of two unnamed sex offenders, against the prosecutors and sheriffs of Allen and Elkhart counties. When reached by The Indianapolis Star, the sheriff's departments declined to comment.

Indiana's new religious freedom law, which went into effect Wednesday, says if the government imposes an undue burden on the religious rights of individuals, businesses or religious organizations, it must prove a compelling interest and that it is using the least restrictive means possible.

"I think this is exactly the kind of case RFRA was about," said Indiana University law professor David Orentlicher. "You've got this sex offender law that's designed to protect children. It wasn't passed with the intent to interfere with religious practice, but it turns out there are a fair number of schools on church grounds. These people now can't go to pray without running afoul of the law."

Some in Indiana — including the ACLU — opposed the state RFRA, arguing that the law would allow discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals. That led to a "fix" to the law to clarify that an RFRA defense could not be used to trump local and state civil rights laws.

But with the heated debate over how RFRA would apply in wedding services for same-sex couples, "what got lost was there are a lot of good reasons for these statutes," Orentlicher said. "That's what this case should remind us — that RFRAs can be misused, but we don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater," he added.

Falk of the ACLU said the lawsuit uses RFRA "as it was originally contemplated" to protect religious freedoms. "We're not going to pretend it doesn't exist now," Falk said. "It does exist. The legislature said it wants to protect religious liberties, and that's exactly what we're trying to do."

Still, state Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, a Fort Wayne Republican, criticized the ACLU for the lawsuit. "The ACLU used to be a staunch supporter of religious liberty," he said in a statement. "Now they've reduced themselves to making a mockery of it. On top of this, they also support endangering our children while championing the rights of sex offenders. It's a sad day for the ACLU."

State Rep. Christina Hale, D-Indianapolis, co-sponsored the law prohibiting sex offenders from school grounds and reacted to the ACLU lawsuit by slamming the religious freedom law: "Clearly nobody had thought through what all the negative ramifications might be for people."

"I think that we have to keep in mind that Indiana is one of the very worst states in the nation when it comes to protecting our children from sexual violence," she added, citing national health statistics and recidivism rates. "We're second only to Wyoming. And we have to do whatever it takes to protect our kids. ... Any time we can keep a sexual predator away from a child, that's a small victory."

But Orentlicher made the point that the case may not be so simple. For sex offenders who have served their time, religion may be instrumental to their rehabilitation, he said: "If your goal is to protect kids, with these people, you want to maximize their chances for rehabilitation."...

In addition, the ACLU argues for sex offenders to have access to the worship services when schools aren't in session. And the lawsuit says it's "not rational" that serious sex offenders can still go to church services where children are present if there's no school attached. Orentlicher said other states, such as Missouri, have carved out religious exemptions to allow sex offenders to attend church when school is not in session. "They're just saying, 'Let us pray when the kids aren't there,' " Orentlicher said.

July 6, 2015 at 02:01 PM | Permalink

Comments

America needs to ope their eyes and ears!

It's not sex offenders who are the enemy, it's the damn politicians (and some times Judges) who are.

Sex offenders are no problem going to your churches or even attending a function where their child goes to school.

It's the hate filled, vote grubbers who want to exclude a class of citizen. Gay's now have the right to marry. Sex offenders also have the right to live and take part in their community.

Posted by: Book38 | Jul 6, 2015 3:05:32 PM

Book38 | Jul 6, 2015 3:05:32 PM: It is not accurate to call people who are listed on a Sex Offender Registry "sex offenders". I think "Registered Citizens" is a decent term. The term "sex offender" is used by the terrorists who support the Sex Offender Registry. It is a weapon of war.

When I read articles like this it always solidifies my belief that all people who are listed on a Sex Offender Registry should go out of their way to be around children all the time. I really believe that should be one of the main goals of any listed person. And it just so happens that can be done pretty easily just by living a normal life. But listed people should go well beyond that and form close relationships with people who do not know they are listed. It is easy to do and it is what the Registries deserve.

Posted by: FRegistryTerrorists | Jul 8, 2015 9:22:24 AM

FRegistryTerrorists

When you know all the facts, then you can correct me. Sex Offender is the proper term.

We can haggle over semantics when the law get changed.

Posted by: Book38 | Jul 8, 2015 1:54:02 PM

Book38 | Jul 8, 2015 1:54:02 PM: Please tell all of us the facts that we need to know in order to determine if it is accurate to call people who are listed on a Sex Offender Registry "sex offender". Then all of us will know enough in order to "correct" you or not. In the meantime, I will more fully explain my point.

Let's presume that you told a lie a couple of decades ago. At that time, I could accurately call you "liar", right? Do you tell lies today? Let's presume not. So can I call you "liar" today? Is that okay with you? How about if I call you "liar" for the rest of your life? Based on your use of "sex offender", I assume that you are okay with that. Or, do you need a nanny big government to create a website with your picture on it, along with the pictures of a bunch of other liars, and say "these people are liars"? Then all of us can call you "liar"?

The problem with "sex offender" is that it is an extremely pejorative term that is used by the terrorists who support the Sex Offender witch hunt. They use it in all of their propaganda. I'm sure you've heard one of their favorite lies of "once a sex offender, always a sex offender". Calling listed people "sex offender" supports that lie. People who are listed on a Sex Offender Registry are not "sex offenders", they are people who are listed on a nanny big government list.

We are in a war with terrorists. Words matter. People who call other people names (like "sex offender") open themselves up to being called pretty much anything.

Posted by: FRegistryTerrorists | Jul 9, 2015 8:19:06 AM

I am not in agreement with the individual who believes those who support the Sex Offender registry are terrorist. They do however align themselves with those who burned witches, jailed communist, and cried crucify Him. Being fearful and having poor information, about those on the registry, has brought out hatred in many of us. Unfortunately, I have walked more than a mile on both sides. We are all in need of the Grace of God to forgive and love each other.
To those on the registry, right or wrong, it is what it is. To those who were not placed on this list, you are on another list with us. Sinners needing love and forgiveness. I love and forgive you. Please allow me to worship with you.

Posted by: Jim M. | Dec 22, 2015 2:09:38 PM

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