James Nichols of North Carolina was flabbergasted when a sheriff’s deputy arrested him ror a simple weekly activity — going to church, says the Raleigh News & Observer. Nichols, 31, had served six years in prison for indecent liberties with a teenage girl and attempted second-degree rape. After the sheriff investigated an alleged sexual assault by another person in the church parking lot, Nichols was arrested because he was attending the church, which has a child-care facility on its premises.
A state law that took effect in December forbids registered sex offenders from being within 300 feet of a school, playground, day care or children’s museum. “The law we passed doesn’t let them go to church, because there are nurseries in churches,” said state Rep. Verla Insko, the only legislator to oppose the law. Nichols, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, is challenging the law. A coalition of social workers and psychologists who treat sex abusers have been fighting it in the General Assembly. Some think churches should play a key role in rehabilitating offenders. Proponents, though, want to keep sexual offenders away from children at all costs, even after they’ve finished their prison time. “As far as I’m concerned, they’ve lost all their rights — to go to church … to go to McDonald’s to get a cheeseburger if they’ve got the slides,” said state Sen. David Hoyle, who sponsored the law. “They have made that choice. They have imposed that on themselves. I didn’t.” Nichols’ lawyer, Glenn Gerding, calls the law unconstitutional because it infringes on his client’s freedom to exercise religion. He said the law applies even if an offender is merely sitting on a pew and no children are in the building.