5 sex offenders fight church ban

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ATLANTA --- Five sex offenders filed a lawsuit Tuesday claiming a tough new Georgia law that bans them from volunteering at churches also robs them of their right to participate in religious worship.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Rome, claims the Georgia law effectively "criminalizes fundamental religious activities" for sex offenders and bars them from serving as a choir member, secretary, accountant or any other role with a religious organization.

"Even helping a pastor with Bible study or preparing a meal in a church kitchen will subject (sex offenders) to prosecution and imprisonment," the complaint said.

It is the latest of a growing list of legal challenges targeting Georgia's strict sex offender statute, which was hailed by supporters in 2006 as one of the toughest in the nation but has since been the frequent focus of lawsuits contending it is far too restrictive.

The main portion of the measure bans sex offenders from living, working or loitering within 1,000 feet of just about anywhere children gather. That includes schools, parks, gyms, swimming pools and the state's 150,000 school bus stops.

The original version of the law banned sex offenders from working at churches, but when it was retooled this year, supporters slipped in a provision also banning them from volunteering at houses of worship. Doing so could risk a penalty of 10 to 30 years in prison.

The changes were adopted with little debate in April at the urging of Republican lawmakers who said they will help protect Georgia's children and prevent the state from becoming a "safe haven" for sex offenders.

"I have not had one prosecutor, one judge, one sheriff, one mama, one daddy, one grandparent coming down here telling me to repeal the residency requirements on sex offenders," state Rep. David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, one of the measure's sponsors, told House lawmakers during the session.

Some national advocacy groups have also rallied to defend the measure.

"Giving sex offenders any title or position in a religious organization is like giving a gun to a bank robber. Why take the risk?" said Barbara Dorris, of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Critics have launched a slew of lawsuits over the past two years claiming the law is unconstitutional, and federal judges are already considering challenges targeting the school bus stop portion of the law and another provision that could evict offenders who live near churches.

The latest challenge, filed by the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights, says the measure deprives Georgia's sex offenders of the "rehabilitative influence" of religious activity.

"Certain people on the sex offender registry should not work with children in a church setting or elsewhere," said Sarah Geraghty, an attorney with the center. "But criminalizing the practice of religion for all 15,000 people on the registry will do more harm than good."

The lawsuit centers on five sex offenders who fear the new provision, which goes into effect July 1, will ban them from participating in many religious functions.

Among them is Omar Howard, 33, who is on the registry after he was convicted of false imprisonment of a minor during a 1993 burglary.

He got involved in a Christian ministry during his 14-year prison sentence and became a volunteer at several churches after his release last year. He's not sure whether the law will allow him to help prepare for revival meetings, serve on church committees or sing in the choir, which he feels is part of his calling.

"What really can I do? This law cripples me. All I can do is go to sermons and leave. Why am I a threat to exercise my faith?" he said.

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426Hemi 06/25/08 - 07:27 am
They're free to worship in

They're free to worship in the confines of their own home. god made 'em do it! See, they were made in his own likeness.

bone 06/25/08 - 08:36 am
can't have it both ways,

can't have it both ways, hemi: either you are free to worship or you aren't. there are religions that maintain church/temple/mosque is the most appropriate place to gather together. the state should not be able to impose restrictions on a person's ability to worship if that person has completed their court-mandated punishment.

noway 06/25/08 - 08:51 am
Agree Bone - good point!

Agree Bone - good point! They've done the time for the crime. Leave them alone.

fyjigmo 06/25/08 - 09:00 am
If the state is going to

If the state is going to maintain the heinousness of the crime, then why not just eliminate the offenders? Otherwise, you must restore their freedom of religion. Working in a church may be good for them, as long as the church members agree and are aware of the individual being a sex offender. They will definately be watched closely. Also, just because an 18 yo and a 15 yo have CONSENSUAL sex doesn't mean they should automatically be classed as a sex offender. Just means the parents should whip their buts!

InChristLove 06/25/08 - 10:02 am
Hemi, I feel sorry for

Hemi, I feel sorry for you.... Yes they have been made in Christ likeness but the beauty of that is he gave us free will and they made a wrong choice but Christ also offers forgiveness. This doesn't mean we turn a blinds eye to the situation but individuals who are registered sex offenders (or anyone else) should be able to worship with other like believers. When it comes to activites or teaching of children I know at my church you have to have a background check done and are not allowed to teach but you are still allowed to worship with the congregation. I don't see a problem with them singing in the choir or helping with meals. If the congregation is aware of an individuals past, proper supervision is provided and safe guards are in place isn't it more blessed to uplift this individual who is trying to correct his ways than to keep tearing them down.

77777 06/25/08 - 12:04 pm
If Jesus would not turn them

If Jesus would not turn them away, what gives us a right to?

HYPOCRITES 08 06/25/08 - 07:00 pm
No comments from

No comments from Christian?????????

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