October 27, Should convicted sex offenders be allowed to attend worship services with children? Many faith leaders across the nation grapple with that question. It's an issue that has sparked a new decision from an Indiana court: The Indianapolis Star reports that the state's Court of Appeals overturned a trial court decision and ruled that "sex offenders are allowed to attend church services even while children are present to attend Sunday school.
Sex offenders faced arrest and prosecution if they attended such a church. A follow-up piece — by the Star or another enterprising news organization — might dig deeper into the issue and reflect other key voices. For example, how do various churches approach this issue? What do victim advocates say about allowing sex offenders in the same pews as kids? Do experts on sex crimes have any insight or advice for houses of worship? These questions, it seems to me, would be relevant for journalists not just in Indiana but all over.
I recently interviewed a Michigan ministry leader for The Christian Chronicle. Convicted of indecent liberties with a teenage girl when he was 20 and attempted second-degree rape years later, James Nichols served his prison time—and then found himself back in police custody.
Authorities said the year-old Nichols violated a new North Carolina law that bars sex offenders from coming within feet of any place intended primarily for use, care, or supervision of minors. Nichols was arrested after worship at Moncure Baptist Church because the church has child-care facilities for families attending services.
He is challenging the constitutionality of the law, claiming it violates his religious freedom. Laws in 36 states establish where sex offenders can — and cannot — live or visit, an Associated Press survey found. Some states provide exemptions for churches, but many do not. However, he also has made me shepherd of my flock, and it is my responsibility to protect them from the wolves. Increasingly, however, liability insurance carriers demand that church leaders address the issue of registered sex offenders in their congregations, said Kim Estes, education and outreach director for peace of Mind, a Bellevue, Washington-based nonprofit.
Given the Indiana ruling, an update on how this issue has developed nationally might be interesting. Go for it, Godbeat friends.