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NC Registered Sex Offenders Have Right to Worship

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By Kamika Dunlap on December 30, 2009 5:50 AM

James Nichols, a registered sex offender in North Carolina, has protected rights to worship or attend church.

A judge ruled that a law limiting NC registered sex offenders' ability to worship or go to church is unconstitutional.

The Associated Press reports that Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour said two parts of a North Carolina general statute aimed at protecting children from child molesters are unconstitutionally vague and overly broad. In addition, the statute infringes on constitutionally protected rights -- specifically, the right to worship.

The ruling comes after authorities arrested registered sex offender James Nichols for attending a Baptist church outside of Raleigh because the church provided on-premise childcare. The judge dismissed the charges.

Baddour said the law needs to require that a defendant have intent to be in the presence of minors to pass constitutional muster. It can't simply ban an offender from being in the vicinity of a Sunday school classroom, for example.

Currently, the statute says offenders must stay 300 feet away from any area intended for the use, care of or supervision of minors and any place where minors gather for regularly scheduled event.

However, those laws infringe on the fundamental rights protected by the First Amendment to practice religion.

Nichols challenged the state law, saying it was too broad and denied his right to attend the church of his choice.

This decision also comes at a time when sex offender legislation is under fire across the country.

As previously discussed, Jessica's Law which is designed to keep convicted sex offenders from living near parks or schools, is under review by the California Supreme Court. 

Lastly, Baddour pointed to other measures the state could take to protect children from offenders, including an exception already in the statute that allows offenders to be on school property for a specific purpose.

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

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