Sex offenders at church

by Jim Longworth

Lost in the recent hoopla over healthcare reform and the recession is a volatile public safety issue that, like its namesake, just won’t go away.

Convicted sex offenders, it seems, don’t want their movements restricted after release from prison. In particular they want to be able to attend the church of their choice.

Sounds like a harmless enough request except that, in accordance with a 2008 law, these sexual predators are prohibited from being within 300 feet of children, and most churches operate day care centers and Sunday school classes for kids.

NC Rep. Rick Glazier (D-Cumberland) wants the law changed so that convicted predators can attend any house of worship so long as a church official issues written permission. But the only way this would work is for two important caveats to be added. First, the church must employ an off-duty policeman to guard the children in its care. And second, the preacher who gives permission for the predator to mix with kids must have had one of his own children sexually molested. This might seem an extreme tongue-incheek proposal, but to do otherwise would be an affront to the victims of that sex offender, and a threat to all children with whom he comes in contact.

Preachers are a forgiving lot by nature, so unless their family has been victimized, they are not qualified to expose other children to such perversion and trauma.

And so we are faced with a moral dilemma: Restrict the worship of a convicted sex offender, or put our children at risk. Moreover, how can a man of God turn anyone away from the Lord’s house? reminds us of how Jesus himself viewed anyone who might harm a child. “Whosoever shall hurt one of these little ones… it would be better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he was cast into the sea.” And you thought my proposal was radical. But Jesus knew of what he spoke. These sick individuals have done irreparable harm to their victims and can never again be trusted around underage children.

Glazier’s bill will come to a vote next year, so we have awhile to study its implications and potential consequences. At the same time, we should lobby for a more judicious definition of who a sexual predator really is. After all, a 17-year-old boy who has consensual sex with a 15-year-old girl is not a sexualpredator. He does not deserve to go to prison, and should not beprohibited from congregating around young children. If we can clarifythe parameters of who qualifies as a sexual predator and uphold andenforce reasonable restrictions on the movements of those who are, thenparents throughout North Carolina will rest easy. That’s because whenit comes to rehabilitation and second chances, sexual predators can’tdo the former, and don’t deserve the latter.

JimLongworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m.on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cablechannel 15).