Sex offenders seeking redemption and forgiveness will find themselves unwelcome at churches in one North Carolina county if the local sheriff has his way.
The Asheville Citizen-Times reports that Sheriff Danny Millsaps of Graham County (population: 9,000) has sent a letter to the 20 or so known sex offenders in his county that, under North Carolina law, they are not allowed within 300 feet of a place where children are present, such as a school, day care center, or a church.
“This is an effort to protect the citizens and children of the community of Graham (County). I cannot let one sex offender go to church and not let all registered sex offenders go to church.”
The sheriff has offered to allow sex offenders who want to go to church to attend worship services at the county jail’s chapel.
The sheriff understands that he’s dealing with an odd intersection of North Carolina law and the First Amendment, which guarantees the right to Freedom of Religion, but he has to stand by the law. He also says that he has no intention of arresting any sex-offender churchgoers.
“I understand I can’t keep them from going to church. That may have been misunderstood. I’ll be the first one to say I might have made mistakes in the wording of that letter.”
Graham County clergy have had mixed reactions to the letter, according to Fox News.
Rev. Burlen of Aldridge Bethel Baptist Church expressed concerns about having sex offenders around small children.
“I don’t like them around little children, they need to get straight. If they do come to our church, we will not run them off. But we will try and convert them to a better place.”
Michelle Shiplet, of Church Mouse Ministries, says that her congregation pairs up sex offenders with a sponsor, but they are welcome in her congregation.
“Not in my particular congregation, we don’t bar the gates of Heaven.”
The Graham County case highlights the issues related to managing sex offenders after they’re released from prison. Because of concerns about sex offenders re-offending, politicians have enacted laws — such as zoning restrictions and sex-offender registries — that continue to punish sex offenders well after they’ve served their debt to society, according to some human rights groups. In some jurisdictions, such as Miami, the problem is so bad that sex offenders are forced to live in homeless encampments, according to this Inquisitr report.
The American Civil Liberties Union in Raleigh, as well as Graham County’s attorney, are reviewing the sheriff’s letter to see if the ban on sex offenders attending church in the county is unconstitutional.