N.C. judge strikes down law banning sex offenders from church

Dec 21st, 2009 | By | Category: Signs of the Times (click on article name)

N.C. judge strikes down law banning sex offenders from church

By Bob Allen
Friday, December 18, 2009

PITTSBORO, N.C. (ABP) — A North Carolina judge has ruled in favor of two registered sex offenders arrested in May for attending a Baptist church near Raleigh.

Francis Demaio and James Nichols were indicted May 11 for violating a state law requiring sex offenders to stay at least 300 feet away from places used primarily by children. The two men had been attending Moncure Baptist Church, which has a nursery on its premises, for several months.

Chatham County Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour ruled Dec. 17 that the law is unconstitutionally broad and vague.

Baddour said North Carolina’s Sexual Offender Unlawfully on Premises law is constitutional on its face, because it prohibits conduct by all qualifying offenders without regard to religion. However, he added, while the state has a compelling interest in safeguarding children, the judge ruled, “There are less drastic means for achieving the same purpose.”

Baddour said lawmakers failed to tailor the statute narrowly enough to avoid infringing on the defendants’ fundamental right to practice religion. He also said the law, which uses terms interchangeably without definition, is too vague for registered sex offenders to know if they are breaking it or for law-enforcement officials to know when to make an arrest.

According to the opinion, one of the defendants told the pastor of Moncure Baptist Church he was a registered sex offender trying to improve his life, and the pastor said he was welcome to attend as long as he conducted himself properly and stayed away from children.

After the arrests, the church tried to accommodate the men by planning an adults-only Bible study when children were not present, but because it was unclear whether that would satisfy the letter of the law, those plans were scrapped.

A bill to revise the year-old law is already before the General Assembly.

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