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N.C. Court Upholds Sex Offenders' Right to Worship

When extending grace and protecting 'little ones' clash.

For evangelicals who uphold both the boundlessness of redemption and the care and protection of "little ones" (Matt. 19:14), having sex offenders in church makes it hard to apply both beliefs at the same time.

In mid-December a Superior Court in North Carolina upheld the case of two registered sex offenders who had been attending Moncure Baptist Church, which offers childcare for Sunday worshipers and other children's programs. James Nichols and Frank DeMaio were indicted in March under a year-old state law that orders offenders to stay 300 feet away from facilities primarily intended for use by or care of children. Nichols's story was highlighted in "Modern-Day Lepers," a reported piece in the December issue of Christianity Today.

Judge Allen Baddour determined that the state law was too vague to enforce, and violated the men's First Amendment rights to worship. "There are less drastic means for achieving the same purpose," Baddour ruled, noting that to meet constitutional requirements, the law should specify whether or not an offender has the intent to be in the presence of minors.

But, as State Rep. Julia Howard (who sponsored the state law) told the Charlotte News & Observer, discerning someone's intent for attending church or any other facility can be tricky. "The word intent is the most precarious word in the world. Who knows what my intent is? Anytime you see 'knowingly' or 'intent,' there's something mysterious there."

Nichols, 31, has been convicted twice of indecent liberties ...

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