Georgia Law Bans Sex Offenders from Worship

November 17, 2008

Critics of Georgia’s sweeping new crackdown on sex offenders urged a
federal judge Thursday to block a provision that bans offenders from
volunteering at churches because they say it robs them of their right
to participate in religious worship.

State attorneys argued the measure’s goal is to keep Georgia’s
children safe from sex offenders who attempt to work at churches and
other spots where children gather.

U.S. District
Judge Clarence Cooper did not issue an immediate decision, but his
ruling will help resolve a growing litany of lawsuits targeting the
strict sex offender law.

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

The measure, which supporters say is among the
nation’s toughest, was passed in 2006 at the urging of Republican
leaders who said it would help protect Georgia’s children and prevent
the state from becoming a “safe haven” for sex offenders.

The Southern Center for Human Rights and others have called the new law far too restrictive.

– Associated Press

They contend it renders vast residential areas off-limits and could force some offenders to elude the state’s registry.

were forced to retool the law earlier this year after the Georgia
Supreme Court ruled that the measure failed to protect the property
rights of offenders.

Thursday’s hearing focused on a
new provision slipped into the law this year that bans sex offenders
from volunteering at houses of worship. Doing so could risk a penalty
of 10 to 30 years in prison.

The center’s attorneys
conceded that some of Georgia’s roughly 16,000 sex offenders should be
banned from working with children, but said that barring all of them
from volunteer work could do more harm than good.

Gerry Weber said some sex offenders have been told its illegal to sing
in a church choir, set up religious events, lead a Bible study and even
sing in an adult choir. One sex offender was prosecuted for playing
piano at a church function, he said.

“These are acts
required by their faiths,” said Weber. “All of these folks need and
want as a matter of their faith to participate in these activities. And
they can’t.”

The state’s attorneys contended the
measure helps churches remain a “place of safety and refuge,” and
suggested that critics had little hard evidence that the new rules
threatened any protected religious activities.

Source: Athens Banner-Herald

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