GA Sex Offenders Challenge Church Volunteer Ban

This article is courtesy of AFL Online.

I’ve got to agree with the law on this one. The sex offender at the conclusion of the article needs to accept the consequences of his crime. It is not necessary to volunteer at a church to practice his faith. “Practicing our faith” is the way we live every day, it is not the “things” we do. As a parent, I do not want sex offenders volunteering at my church. This law is reasonable consequences for actions and is not a restriction of anyone’s religious freedom.

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By Greg Bluestein

Five sex offenders filed a lawsuit Tuesday claiming that a tough new Georgia law that bans them from volunteering at churches also robs them of their right to participate in religious worship.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Rome, claims the Georgia law effectively “criminalizes fundamental religious activities” for sex offenders and bars them from serving as a choir member, secretary, accountant or any other role with a religious organization. “Even helping a pastor with Bible study or preparing a meal in a church kitchen will subject [sex offenders] to prosecution and imprisonment,” the complaint said.

It is the latest of a growing list of legal challenges targeting Georgia’s strict sex offender statute, which was hailed by supporters in 2006 as one of the toughest in the nation but has since been the frequent focus of lawsuits contending it is far too restrictive. 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 stops. The original version of the law banned sex offenders from working at churches, but when it was retooled this year supporters slipped in a provision also banning them from volunteering at houses of worship. Doing so could risk a penalty of 10 to 30 years in prison.

The changes were adopted with little debate in April at the urging of Republican lawmakers who said it will help protect Georgia’s children and prevent the state from becoming a “safe haven” for sex offenders. “I have not had one prosecutor, one judge, one sheriff, one mama, one daddy, one grandparent coming down here telling me to repeal the residency requirements on sex offenders,” state Rep. David Ralston, one of the measure’s sponsors, told House lawmakers during the session. “I think the people of Georgia understand we’re trying to protect the children of Georgia.”

Critics have launched a slew of lawsuits over the last two years claiming the law is unconstitutional, and federal judges are already considering challenges targeting the school bus stop portion of the law and another provision that could evict offenders who live near churches. The latest challenge, which was filed by the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights, claims that the measure deprives Georgia’s sex offenders of the “rehabilitative influence” of religious activity.

“Certain people on the sex offender registry should not work with children in a church setting or elsewhere,” says Sarah Geraghty, an attorney with the Center. “But criminalizing the practice of religion for all 15,000 people on the registry will do more harm than good.”

The group’s lawsuit centers on five sex offenders who fear the new provision, which goes into effect July 1, will ban them from participating in many religious functions. Among them is Omar Howard, a 33-year-old who is on the registry after he was convicted of false imprisonment of a minor during a 1993 burglary. He got involved in a Christian ministry during his 14-year prison sentence and became an active volunteer at several churches after his release last year. Now he’s not sure whether the law will allow him to help prepare for revival meetings, serve on church committees, or sing in the choir, which he feels is part of his calling.

“What really can I do? This law cripples me. All I can do is go to sermons and leave. Why am I a threat to exercise my faith?” he said.

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What the Bible Says about Divorce, IV

In Ezra 10 there is another interesting story that shows God’s heart about the permanence of marriage.

And Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, answered and said unto Ezra, We have trespassed against our God, and have taken strange wives of the people of the land: yet now there is hope in Israel concerning this thing.

Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives, and such as are born of them, according to the counsel of my lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law. Ezra 10:2,3

When the people of Israel sought God’s heart during a time of repentance and prayer God directed them to put away their “strange” wives and the children they had with these women.

What made these women “strange?” It was certainly not the fact that they were foreign. God had put a process in place whereby a foreigner could become an Israelite. The problem was the fact that these women worshipped false gods.

“Put away” in this text is not a Hebrew word for divorce, but these men were not rightly married to these women in Israelite culture. They may have married them in some recognized civil fashion, and thereby been legally married, but there could not have married them in a legitimate Jewish marriage without the wives going through the process to convert to Judaism. So using one of the Hebrew words for divorce would technically be an inaccuracy.

But God made it completely clear, that even this marriage was intolerable to Him. Though these men had taken these women as wives and borne children by them, God expected them to put these wives away entirely.

There is an interesting principle here. In the New Testament, God makes it very clear why believers are not to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. It is because of the issue of idolatry. We become one flesh and one spirit with a sexual partner, and simultaneously we are one spirit with God (I Cor. 6:15-20). How can we do that when we are under the authority of God and they are under the authority of Belial? (II Cor. 6:14-18 )

The Word also makes it clear that a man who does not provide for his family (which would include material provision, protection, etc.) is worse than an unbeliever (I Tim. 5:8 ). It also says that a man who is an idolater, drunkard/addict, verbal abuser, etc. is to be considered an unbeliever and we are to separate from them in every way (I Cor. 5:9-13). This is a very clear statement, and also a clear corollary to the Old Testament reason God mandated divorce for these men with idolatrous wives.

I believe the Word is very clear that a spouse who willfully, wantonly, persistently and deliberately chooses to deny God in these very clearly stated ways is a spiritual danger. In the Old Testament God told these men to put away their idolatrous wives. In the New Testament, God makes equally clear provision for the same, which we will talk about in more detail when I get to these New Testament passages.