Sex Offenders in Church • HHS Request • Zoning Lawsuit: News Roundup
This week’s headlines that affect churches and church leaders.
Sex Offenders in Church • HHS Request • Zoning Lawsuit: News Roundup
Image: Jon Goldstein / Unsplash

Indiana Court Rules Sex Offenders May Go to Church Services When Children Are Present. “The Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled that sex offenders are allowed to attend church services even while children are present to attend Sunday school. The ruling handed down Tuesday stems from a letter the Boone County sheriff sent to his county’s registered sex offenders in July 2015 informing them of the passage of Indiana’s ‘serious sex offender’ law. The law prohibits ‘serious sex offenders’ from entering ‘school property.’ School property, under the state's interpretation of the law, includes a church if the church conducts Sunday school or has child care for children of the ages described in the statute. Sex offenders faced arrest and prosecution if they attended such a church. Citing Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, three unnamed sex offenders sought a court injunction to attend church. They argued that preventing them from attending services, even when children are present, places ‘a substantial burden on their exercise of religion’” (“Appeals court rules that sex offenders can attend church with children present,” The Indianapolis Star).

Learn more about the free exercise clause in our Legal Library.

Department of Health and Human Services Requests Feedback on Potential Barriers for Faith-Based Organizations. “The Department of Health and Human Services yesterday published a Release (full text) in the Federal Register seeking comment on removal of barriers that may exist to participation in HHS programs and grants for faith-based organizations. The Release says in part: ‘HHS seeks input from the public and relevant stakeholders on potential changes that could be made to existing HHS regulations or guidance to ensure that faith-based organizations and their religious beliefs and moral convictions are properly accommodated, that faith based organizations are not required to act contrary to their religious beliefs or moral convictions (as a recipient, subrecipient, contractor, sub-contractor, or otherwise) or are otherwise not restricted, excluded, substantially burdened, discriminated against, or disproportionately disadvantaged in HHS-conducted or funded programs or activities (including those administered by state and local governments) because of their religious character, identity, beliefs, or moral convictions’” (“HHS Seeks Comment on Faith-Based Participation in Programs,” Religion Clause).

Alabama Church and City Settle Zoning Lawsuit. “A local church and the City of Dothan have settled a federal lawsuit over zoning regulations, allowing the church to relocate its campus. . . . The lawsuit, filed on Oct. 13, came after the Dothan Board of Zoning Adjustment rejected New Life’s request for a special exception to the zoning regulations in September. The request, if granted, would have allowed the church to move. Currently under the city’s zoning regulations, religious institutions have no ‘permitted’ or ‘by right’ usages and must apply for special exceptions for 12 of Dothan’s 16 zoning districts. Meanwhile, clubs of a fraternal nature can, by right, utilize the B-1 and B-2 districts. New Life attorney Noel Sterett of the Chicago-based Mauck and Baker firm argued the differential treatment of churches and clubs or other organizations violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act passed by Congress in 2000” (“City, church settle federal lawsuit over building usage,” Dothan Eagle).

This lawsuit also appeared in last week’s News Roundup. Find out more about zoning laws in this article.

Church’s Maintenance Employee Faces Arson Charges. “A maintenance man at the Concord Fortress of Hope church was charged with arson on Monday. Investigators said Nathaniel Nelson, 48, used fire and racist graffiti to cover up a burglary. According to charging documents, the 48-year-old showed up to the church’s cultural center Saturday night to smoke crack cocaine. Police said Nelson told them he did this several times over the course of the night. . . . Nelson also told investigators he unplugged the surveillance cameras, but those cameras were rolling on a different system when he spray painted the front doors” (“UPDATE: Church maintenance man charged with arson,” 41 KSHB).

Learn more about protecting your church’s property with this downloadable resource, and read about five benefits of video surveillance cameras in this article.

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Emily Lund is assistant editor for Church Law & Tax.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."

Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

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