In Raleigh, James Nichols says he wants to find God but he can’t find him in North Carolina. The convicted sex-offender was arrested when he tried to attend church because he is not allowed to be present on any property where children are present, such as in the church’s daycare center. It is only the latest in a series of cases that pit the freedom of religion against sex offender laws.
We have previously seen cases of sex offenders raising free exercise claims, here. As politicians impose wider and wider prohibitions on where sex offenders may live or work, ex-felons are having to live in forests and under bridges to avoid prohibited areas, here. In some cases these laws amount to virtual banishment by barring virtually every block in a given city, here.
To add to the problems, states have been defining sex offender to include a wide array of offenses, including consensual acts between teenagers, here.
Nichols, 31, was convicted twice of indecent liberties with a teen girl and again in 2003 for attempted second-degree rape. He is barred under a law that bars his being within 300 feet of any place intended primarily for the use, care or supervision of minors among other geographic limitations. Thirty-six states establish such prohibited zones. He was arrested after attending Sunday services at the Moncure Baptist Church.
State legislators are unapologetic. Democratic state Sen. David Hoyle, who sponsored the law insists, “I’m not denying him the right to go to church. He denied himself that . . . If they are a convicted pedophile, they have given up a lot of their rights.” I would have thought that politicians would want offenders to find God and seek a moral lifestyle.
These cases will present a fascinating challenge under the free exercise clause and could impose some limitations on the current rush to expand prohibited zones for ex-offenders.
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