It is essential that registrants have access to church services because for some registrants the ability to worship at a church is more important than food, shelter and clothing.
In the words of North Carolina attorney Glenn Gerding, “Given….residency and employment restrictions, as well as societal discrimination against and vilification of sex offenders, churches are often the last hope for many sex offenders who need the stability and guidance a church pastor and church family can provide.”
Why is it then that some churches place outright bans on registrants who wish to worship there while others restrict registrants’ activities to such an extent that registrants choose not to worship at all?
One answer may be the publication, “Sex Offenders in the Church”, recently issued by ChurchLawAndTax.com which provides erroneous statements and inhumane guidelines regarding registrants. This publication harms registrants’ ability to worship because it repeats many myths about registrants as well as spreads fear to both the churches they serve as well as to church leaders.
The publication includes a few accurate facts about registrants such as that the number of registrants in America is both staggering and rising. In addition, the publication accurately states that the growing number of registrants includes many who want to attend church. Further, the publication accurately states that registrants have been convicted of a wide range of offenses including those that are not violent and do involve physical contact.
The report takes a wrong turn, however, when it states that although there are registrants who attend church because they have a “genuine desire to meet spiritual needs,” there are also registrants who attend church because their motivation is “a desire to have access to potential victims.” The report continues down the path of misinformation by repeating myths such as that some registrants “will always pose an elevated risk” to a church that elects to allow them to have access to church services and activities.
The publication takes another wrong turn when it focuses upon pedophilia, a medical diagnosis and not a crime, and states the following myths: pedophilia is incurable and very difficult to control. The publication goes on to falsely state that pedophiles have a high recidivism rate, that is, more than half of pedophiles who are convicted of a sex offense are re-arrested for a new offense.
The publication continues down the wrong path when it spreads fear by warning churches that they could be found liable if it becomes known that a registrant is worshipping there. It then adds another fear by warning church leaders that they could become personally liable for a registrant’s behavior.
The greatest harm done by this publication, however, is the shame it projects on to church leaders who are compassionate and understand the spiritual needs of registrants. Specifically, first the publication recognizes that “there will always be those in church leadership who will urge mercy and restoration” for registrants. Then, the publication issues a false warning that such feelings are contrary to an unknown Bible commandment that “speaks to….protection of the innocent.” The publication continues shaming in its question: “How can church leaders even begin to think they are taking this commandment seriously if they allow a convicted sex offender to have unrestricted access to the church?”
The false statements in this publication are compounded by the inhumane recommendation that registrants should only be allowed in church if they enter into a “conditional attendance agreement.” One term of such an agreement is that a registrant “must always be in the presence of a designated chaperone while on church property for any reasons, including….restroom breaks.” In addition, the chaperone must “meet the offender at the entrance of the church, and accompany him or her on church premises until returned to his or her vehicle.” Given that no one else in the congregation must be accompanied by a chaperone, this restriction alone brands registrants who worship in a church with a Scarlet letter.
Because this publication is provided to both churches and church leaders, it is imperative that this organization devote resources to the education of those who have published it. That is, ACSOL will provide that organization with truthful data from both government and academic sources. ACSOL will provide that data with a hope and a prayer that the organization and its members will educate themselves about the real facts regarding registrants. However, if they choose to ignore those facts, it may be necessary to educate the organization and its members utilizing a different method – a lawsuit in a federal court.
In order to succeed in court, ACSOL needs to learn about the experiences of registrants who have attempted to worship at a church and been denied that opportunity. Please send a brief description of your experience to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.