ACLU: RFRA must let sex offenders worship at churches with schools

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Indy Star on 07/02/2015 by Stephanie Wang

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit Wednesday invoking the state’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act to contend that not allowing serious sex offenders to attend churches with attached schools is an undue burden on religious rights.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of two unnamed sex offenders, challenges another new state law that bans registered sex offenders from entering school property — including when a parochial school is located on the same grounds as a church.

Under RFRA, the ACLU said, the government is placing an undue burden on the religious beliefs of sex offenders.

“This is a prime example as a place where people’s religious rights are being burdened, and therefore under RFRA the state has to justify that,” said ACLU of Indiana legal director Ken Falk. “It makes no sense to ban people on a Sunday if there are kids there on a Thursday.”

Serious sex offenders include sexually violent predators or those convicted of crimes such as child molestation, possession of child pornography or sexual misconduct with a minor.

The lawsuit in Elkhart Superior Court was filed against the prosecutors and sheriffs of Allen and Elkhart counties.

Indiana’s new religious freedom law went into effect July 1. The law says if the government imposes an undue burden on the religious rights of individuals, businesses and religious organizations, it must prove a compelling interest and that it is using the least restrictive means possible.

The ACLU of Indiana opposed RFRA, arguing that the law would allow discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals. But Falk said the lawsuit uses RFRA “as it was originally contemplated” to protect religious freedom.

“We’re not going to pretend it doesn’t exist now,” Falk said. “It does exist. The legislature said it wants to protect religious liberties, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.”

This story will be updated.