The state’s new controversial religious freedom law has spawned its first lawsuit – filed by two sex offenders, including one in Allen County, who are banned from worshipping at churches with attached schools.
Indiana law prohibits sex offenders from entering school property, regardless of whether school is in session, the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana said.
“This statute has a number of serious effects, not the least of which is to ban these persons from going to worship in churches, synagogues, mosques, or other religious buildings” located on the same property as parochial schools or certain preschool programming, the suit said.
“Banning sex offenders from, for example, church on Sunday, because there are students in a school on the same grounds on Monday, is irrational.”
They claim it violates the U.S. Constitution and the new religious freedom law, which prohibits government from imposing a substantial burden on a person’s exercise of religion absent a compelling governmental interest and a showing that the action is the least restrictive means to further that interest.
Lawmakers passed the act to protect Hoosiers from government intrusion in practicing their faith. But it was also seen by many as a way to discriminate against gays and lesbians. It provides a three-prong test for judges to use to decide if the governmental action is appropriate.
The Allen County man is termed John Doe 1. He was convicted of a sex offense against a child as a Class D felony and served a short sentence in the county jail. He is not on probation or parole, but is required to register as a sex offender.
The lawsuit said he regularly attends his church in Fort Wayne. Attached to his church is a religious school for children from late elementary school through eighth grade. There is also a preschool at the church.
Neither is in session when the church meets on Sunday or the evening hours when he attends. But the church is still deemed as “school property” under the state law banning sex offenders.
“Mr. Doe 1 and his wife selected this church for membership and attendance after much searching. It is a comfortable and comforting place for himself and his family and provides a unique sense of fulfillment and meaning that could not be easily replaced,” according to court records. “Mr. Doe 1 believes that being able to attend regular Sunday worship and the evening activities at the church are essential to his exercise of religion. He desires to have the community experience that only group worship can bring.”
But the Allen County Sheriff’s Department told him he is no longer able to attend.
The suit was filed in Elkhart Superior Court.