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Sex Offenders After Prison: May They Attend Church?

By Kamika Dunlap | Last updated on

Trying to shed the label of "sex offender" can be hard when many churches are not welcoming.

In fact, Dick Witherow, pastor and author calls sex offenders modern day lepers. But unlike many faith communities, Witherow's church, Miracle Park, about 90 miles outside of Miami supports sex offenders' rights to worship. Wearing ankle bracelets and electronic monitors on their belts sex offenders are invited to fill the pews.

So, may sex offenders attend church? Do they have a right to worship?

Although sex offenders have the right to worship, finding a church to attend can be a challenge.

Most states restrict sex offenders' movements in some way. For example, in Georgia, registered sex offenders can't live or work within 1,000 ft. of places including schools, churches and child-care centers.

As more states have adopted laws regulating where sex offenders can go, it has raised debate about the First Amendment right to worship.

This hot button issue recently came to a head in Louisville, KY when a Christian church, in what many believe is first time, knowingly ordained a convicted sex offender as a minister.

Mark Hourigan, a convicted sexually abusing an 11-year-old boy became the newest minister at City of Refuge Worship Center. According to court documents, Hourigan was arrested on one count each of first-degree sodomy and sexual abuse in Marion County, Ky., in 1998. He pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual abuse.

The terms of Hourigan's parole, which he completed in June 2008, included an order that he not serve in any leadership capacity at a church with youths, the Associated Press reports.

As previously discussed, James Nichols, a convicted sex offender challenged the NC law prohibiting registered sex offenders from coming within 300 ft. of any facility devoted to the use, care or supervision of minors. He claimed it was too broad and denied him from attending a church of his choice.

A judge ruled that a law limiting registered sex offenders' ability to go to church infringed on constitutionally protected rights -- specifically, the right to worship.

Today, 36 states establish zones where sex offenders cannot live or visit. Some states provide exceptions for churches, but many do not.

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