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Law challenged after sex offender arrested for going to church

Posted October 29, 2009

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— Lawyers for a registered sex offender appeared in court Thursday to challenge the constitutionality of a law under which he was charged for going to church.

James Nichols, 31, was arrested on March 28 after he attended services at Moncure Baptist Church. He was charged under a nearly year-old state law that bans sex offenders from coming within 300 feet of any place intended for the use, care or supervision of children.

Moncure Baptist has a nursery and regularly scheduled programs for children.

Sex offender challenges law banning him from church Sex offender challenges law banning him from church

In a two-hour hearing in Superior Court in Pittsboro Thursday, Nichols' lawyers argued that the law is too broad, doesn't exempt churches and violates constitutional rights to religious freedom and to assembly.

"He engages in free speech, he walks down the aisle, he sings with people, and he reads the Bible," defense attorney Glenn Gerding said. "So this is not just a case about the free exercise of religion; it is also a case about assembling together with people who want to assemble together."

Nichols has been convicted twice of indecent liberties with a teen girl and most recently of attempted second-degree rape in 2003. He spent a total of 6 years and 2 months in prison on those charges.

Nichols said that he found God in prison, and when he was released last September, Moncure Baptist welcomed him with open arms.

“James seemed very sincere in everything he said” about turning his life over to God, Moncure Baptist Church Matt Garrett testified.

Garrett said the church has a nursery that is not sanctioned by the state. "It is strictly a babysitting service for people with children."

Prosecutor Kayley Taber said Nichols and another sex offender, Frank DeMaio, were arrested after the Chatham County Sheriff's Office received a complaint.

"This was not an investigation targeted at local churches," Taber said.

DeMaio, who was convicted twice of taking indecent liberties with children, has joined Nichols in challenging the law.

Judge Allen Baddour did not make a decision on the issue Thursday but set another hearing for Nov. 12.

If Baddour declares the law unconstitutional, the case could go all the way up to the state Supreme Court.

Thirty-six states establish zones where sex offenders cannot live or visit. Some states provide exceptions for churches, but many do not.

27 Comments

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  • roncorey1 Nov 2, 2009

    Sex offender restriction laws are in violation of the "Ex post facto" clause of the US Constitution.

    Not the registry itself, but these stupid laws that restrict freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution.

    And I am talking about folks who are OFF probation and parole!

  • Professor Oct 30, 2009

    When did churches start banning pedophiles?
    hereandnow99

    They would be welcome at my church.

  • Professor Oct 30, 2009

    I don't want my daughter around sex offenders any more than you do. But, as a Christian, how can I say or deny someone the right to attend church and worship? I don't know what is in someone's heart, but it is not my place to judge. I'm all for tough justice, but this is a right that the Constitution specifically protects.
    forensics

    What an outstanding comment. I hope the right one sees it. Worth repeating. Thanks! :) I can see the true christiantly in you. There is a way for sex offenders to attend the church and you brought that out.

  • forensics Oct 30, 2009

    I cannot believe the comments here. Read the Constitution! Here's the First Amendment:

    "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

    In short, we cannot prevent someone's right to practice their religion. Period.

    I don't want my daughter around sex offenders any more than you do. But, as a Christian, how can I say or deny someone the right to attend church and worship? I don't know what is in someone's heart, but it is not my place to judge. I'm all for tough justice, but this is a right that the Constitution specifically protects.

  • Professor Oct 30, 2009

    How about having an evening service where no one attends but the sex offenders. If you are not one, you then would simply stay away with your family. Would that solve the problem?

  • Professor Oct 30, 2009

    If people are worried about a sex offender attending worship service, I was just wondering, how many sex offenders is right there in the family, yet has never been reported by anyone, but they all know what happen but kept it hush hush? This is really dangerous knowing the person is right in the family. The child is never safe then, Right?

  • Professor Oct 30, 2009

    There are more children abused sexually that you never hear about than those that you do.

    Absolutely! Many of these people have never been reported. Some are dead. Every child predator is not on record. They are still walking this earth. I don admire any young child who reports this kind of abuse. In my day, reporting it, you was told to be quiet and not say anything. Even by your mother and father. I taught my children a lot different than that. I told them to tell me, if not comfortable with that, then a teacher, counselor, minister or the police. There should never be a "secret between a child and an adult. Parents start talking to your child right now.

  • Professor Oct 30, 2009

    I believe true christians should allow this man to worship the lord in a church. What harm can he do if there is a mentor walking in the church with him, sitting with him, going to the restroom with him and escorting him off the premises when services is over. Have we lost our christianty that we can find no way to help sex offenders?

  • itsmyownopinion Oct 30, 2009

    Oh, please, those of you who are saying sex offenders can't do anything in a church under certain precautions/conditions. How many cases of sexual abuse of children have you heard about in your life? There are more children abused sexually that you never hear about than those that you do.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Oct 30, 2009

    When did churches start banning pedophiles?

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