Tag Archives: sex offenders

Sex offenders sue, make use of Indiana’s ‘religious objections’ law

A lawsuit filed on behalf of two registered sex offenders cites Indiana’s new religious objections law in arguing they’ve been wrongly prohibited from worshipping at churches that have schools on the same property.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed the lawsuit on behalf of two unnamed sex offenders, one of whom belongs to a Fort Wayne church and another who has attended an Elkhart church.

The lawsuit claims that a new state law banning many sex offenders from going onto school property at any time presents an unjustified burden on the men’s religious liberties under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Ken Falk, the ACLU of Indiana’s legal director, called the additional sex offender restrictions absurd.

“The Legislature passes a law which says sex offenders cannot go into schools and it is being applied to people who are going to church or other religious observances during a time that there’s no school in session,” Falk said. “The law prohibits them from walking on that property — it’s a felony to do so.”

The religious objections law and the tougher sex offender restrictions both took effect on July 1. The lawsuit said both men have regularly attended Sunday services and other events at their churches, but now fear being arrested if they do so.

The ban on sex offenders going onto school property gained little attention as it sailed through the state Legislature this year – clearing both the House and Senate without any votes cast against it.

A national outcry erupted after Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed the religious objections law in late March, with critics saying it would provide a legal defense for discrimination against gays, lesbians and others. It prohibits any government actions that would “substantially burden” a person’s ability to follow his or her religious beliefs.

Douglas Laycock, a constitutional scholar at the University of Virginia Law School who helped win passage of the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, said he believes the ACLU lawsuit has merit and that making it a crime to attend church services is a major burden on a person’s religious practices.

“If you have any hope of rehabilitation, religion works for some people. Telling them they can’t go to church doesn’t make much sense,” said Laycock, the lead writer of an analysis supporting the Indiana religious objections law. The analysis was frequently cited by the bill’s sponsors.

Laycock said he’s not aware of similar cases involving religious objections laws in the 19 other states with similar statutes.

Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long issued a statement blasting the ACLU of Indiana’s filing of the lawsuit after the group opposed the religious objections law as it was debated in the General Assembly.

“The ACLU used to be a staunch supporter of religious liberty,” said Long, a Republican. “Now they’ve reduced themselves to making a mockery of it. On top of this, they also support endangering our children while championing the rights of sex offenders. It’s a sad day for the ACLU.”

The lawsuit, filed in Elkhart County Superior Court, names the prosecutors and sheriffs of Allen and Elkhart counties as defendants. Neither prosecutor’s office had immediate comment Thursday on the lawsuit.

Falk said the lawsuit is serious and that the group has long worked to protect the right to worship.

“Regardless of what we said about the law, it is the law now,” he said. “This is a very conservative use of the law.”

ACLU sues Miami-Dade over law forcing former sex offenders to live by railroad tracks

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Florida sued Miami-Dade County and the Florida Department of Corrections seeking a permanent injunction against a housing ordinance that is extraordinarily difficult for former sex offenders to follow without becoming homeless.

The law prohibits former offenders from living 2,500 feet — almost half a mile — from any building the county labels a “school,” a category the county has enforced arbitrarily since the ordinance went into effect in 2010.

This restriction has left about 50 former offenders with nowhere to live other than an outdoor area along railroad tracks on the outskirts of Miami-Dade county. Each night, they sleep in chairs, in tents, and under tarps, without running water or shelter from the weather.

“As public policy, the Miami-Dade ordinance is a disaster. It has created a homeless population living outdoors in squalor, while doing nothing to serve public safety,” said Brandon Buskey, staff attorney at the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project. “Disease, exposure to the elements, no drinkable water — these conditions make it extremely difficult to find and maintain stable employment and psychological treatment, which are the only two factors proven to reduce the likelihood of reoffending. We know from decades of research that housing restrictions like Miami-Dade’s have no impact on reoffending and, are more likely to increase it.”

Finding affordable housing for former offenders is so futile under the Miami-Dade ordinance that probation officers routinely direct supervisees to the railroad tracks, recording the tracks as the person’s “address.”

“Sending someone just out of jail into homelessness makes no sense, not for the person and not for the public. The Miami-Dade ordinance is not just unworkable, it’s unconstitutional,” said Nancy Abudu, Legal Director of the ACLU of Florida.

For years, county officials have shuffled former offenders around Miami-Dade. Officials broke up the infamous shantytown under the Julia Tuttle Causeway bridge in 2010, only to create another, lesser known encampment in the Miami neighborhood of Shorecrest. Since officials disbanded that tent city, the area by Miami’s railroad tracks has become the only possible location for scores of individuals.

The ACLU of Florida Greater Miami Chapter has assisted in this case.