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Indiana appeals court rules sex offenders can attend church with children present

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled that three convicted Boone County sex offenders can resume attending church services, even if children are present.

The decision comes after a long legal battle stemming from 2015 when the Boone County Sheriff’s Office sent letters to registered sex offenders saying they could not attend churches that have Sunday schools or offer child care services.

The move came after lawmakers passed a statute that bans “serious sex offenders” from access to school property, i.e. a “federal, state, local, or nonprofit program or service operated to serve, assist, or otherwise benefit children who are at least three (3) years of age and not yet enrolled in kindergarten.”

In its decision, the court ruled:

“In sum, appellants’ churches are not ‘school property’ and they do not become ‘school property’ by virtue of conducting Sunday school or offering child care services for children who are three years old but not yet enrolled in kindergarten.”

ACLU of Indiana’s legal directory called the letters sent by Boone County an “erroneous interpretation of the statute.”

“If we’re going to allow anyone who’s previously been incarcerated to live their life, and to expect that they’re going to reintegrate into society as a free person, they have to be treated as a free person,” he said.

Falk represented the three men in the case. Though the men are described in court documents as “serious sex offenders” and have convictions for crimes against children, Falk says the men were using their churches for rehabilitation.

“These men indicated that they had very strong reasons tied to their rehabilitation to want to attend church. And it seemed particularly cruel and shortsighted to say ‘no you cannot get the benefit of solace and forgiveness,’” he said.

In a statement responding to the ruling, a spokesperson for the Indiana Attorney General’s office said:

“The Attorney General takes very seriously the Indiana legislature’s efforts to protect children from sexual abuse, and his office vigorously defends efforts to protect children such as the sex and violent offender registry. The legislature’s decision to restrict serious sex offenders’ access to such places as school property is also one of these important efforts. We are carefully reviewing today’s Court of Appeals’ decision and will decide how to proceed with this case by the applicable deadline.”

Sandy Runkle-Delorme, the director of programming for Prevent Child Abuse Indiana says despite the ruling, the focus should now, and always be, on the safety of children.

“No matter how this ruling affects anything there should just always be protective policies when there’s a youth serving organization that serves families and children. Those policies should be in place no matter what,” she said.

Both the Boone County prosecutor and the Boone County sheriff were unavailable for comment on Wednesday.