Local News

Sex offender arrested for going to church

Posted October 8, 2009 5:33 p.m. EDT
Updated October 8, 2009 6:56 p.m. EDT

— A registered sex offender is challenging a law that got him arrested for going to a Baptist Church in Chatham County.

James Nichols, 31, was twice convicted of indecent liberties with a teen girl and again in 2003 for attempted second-degree rape. He served six years and two months in prison and was released in September 2008.

Nichols said he found God in prison, and when he was released last year he found Moncure Baptist Church, 75 Davenport Road in Moncure.

“God is the one that helps me progress to be a better citizen,” Nichols said. “He was open, giving me a second chance.”

But the church has a nursery. Moncure is also a place where minors gather for regularly scheduled programs.

Under a state law passed last December, sex offenders are barred from coming within 300 feet of any place intended for the use, care or supervision of children.

On March 28, Chatham County deputies arrested Nichols at his home after he attended Sunday services.

“I cried. It hurt me so bad because that (is) the only thing I found in this world that gives me hope,” Nichols said.

Nichols said he was devastated after being arrested. "I was constantly around adults. I was never left alone with minors at all," he said.

He said the pastor at Moncure Baptist Church welcomed him with open arms. “And he was open, giving me a second chance, giving me an opportunity to better myself, and getting to know God,” he said.

Nichols spent a month and a half in jail, then went to Sanford and joined Try Jesus Ministries. The church has no day care, but he faced another issue.

People complained to authorities that Nichols and his pregnant fiancée were living in a tent in an abandoned building. Lee County Sheriff Tracy Carter said Nichols needs a legitimate address.

“For me to okay a sex offender living on private property, I’m just not comfortable with that,” Carter said.

On Sept. 8, Nichols went to Fayetteville and now lives at the New Life Mission Church, 303 Maloney Ave. His attorney has filed a motion to declare the law that banned him from Moncure Baptist unconstitutional.

“That’s all I’m trying to do is be a better person,” Nichols said.

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

In Georgia, the Southern Center for Human Rights has sued the state in part because the law there prevents offenders from volunteering in places of worship. The lawsuit, brought on behalf of Georgia's 16,000-plus registered sex offenders, is pending in federal court.