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June 18, 2009

WWJD about the conflict between religion and restrictions on sex offenders?

This article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, headlined "Church-activity ban prompts legal fight," raised questions about what will judges do (and also what would Jesus do) concerning a Georgia law prohibiting sex offenders from volunteering at churches.  Here are some of the particulars:

A Georgia law banning sex offenders from volunteer work at churches should be struck down because it "criminalizes fundamental religious activities," a court motion filed Tuesday says.  The motion is the latest legal assault on the controversial state sex-offender registry law, one of the toughest in the nation.  A new provision says no registered sex offender shall be employed by or volunteer at a church.

This makes it a crime for sex offenders to sing in adult choirs, prepare for revivals or cook meals in a church kitchen, said the motion, which seeks a court order halting enforcement of the provision before it becomes law July 1.  It was filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta as part of ongoing litigation that seeks to declare the law unconstitutional....

The goal of the state's sex-offender registry law is to keep sex offenders away from areas where children congregate and let the public know where the offenders reside.  Its punishments are severe: Any offender caught working at or volunteering at a church can be sentenced to 10 to 30 years in prison.

Sen. President pro tem Eric Johnson (R-Savannah) said Tuesday that nothing in the law prohibits someone from attending a place of worship. "They just can't be Sunday school teachers or volunteer for a vacation Bible school," he said. "It prevents them, as it should, from being around children." The motion stretches the intent of the law as a way to topple it, Johnson said. "I think somebody's trying to use religion to accomplish their own agenda."

Lori Collins, a 47-year-old mother of two from Henry County, is on the registry because she was convicted of statutory rape six years ago in Screven County for having sex with a 15-year-old boy. In prison, Collins completed the Department of Corrections' faith and character program and served as assistant to the chaplain. Since her release, Collins has become a licensed pastor, is a regular churchgoer at Mount Paran Church of God and is active in prison ministries.

As of July 1, she said Tuesday, she will no longer be able to do this volunteer work or help with administrative functions at two small evangelical ministries.  "If we're practicing our faith and doing this work, we're doing the work God called us to do," said Collins, who filed an affidavit in support of the motion.  "The state is hindering what the Bible clearly speaks about. I just want them to take another look at this." Collins said she would never volunteer for any activity involving children....

The motion is part of ongoing litigation filed in 2006 after the Legislature enacted restrictions on where sex offenders could live and work. U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper initially issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting law enforcement from barring registered offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school bus stop.  That order has since been lifted, but the bus stop restriction is not being enforced while the litigation makes its way through court.

Last year, the Georgia Supreme Court struck down part of the law prohibiting registered offenders from living within 1,000 feet of places where children congregate.  This past session, the Legislature revised the law primarily to address the state Supreme Court's ruling.

June 18, 2009 at 09:51 AM | Permalink


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"I think somebody's trying to use religion to accomplish their own agenda."

Pot meet kettle.

Posted by: Daniel | Jun 18, 2009 10:05:06 AM

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