INDIANAPOLIS — Three sex offenders can attend church in Indiana even if those facilities offer Sunday school or child care for youth, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled.
The three were initially told by a Boone Superior Court judge that they could not attend church when it offered programs, such as Sunday school, to children.
Indiana law bars "serious sex offenders" from being on school property.
But the three appealed the Boone County decision saying it violated Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The appellate court, however, concluded that the churches were not "school property" because state statute does not say that churches or anything related to religious instruction is "school property."
The statute says "school property" is a federal, state or local or nonprofit program or service operated for children who are at least 3 years of age and not yet enrolled in kindergarten.
"If our legislature intended for churches offering Sunday school or other religious instruction to children to qualify as 'school property,' thereby prohibiting serious sex offenders from entering that property, it could have clearly sought to do so," wrote Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Margret Robb in Tuesday's ruling.
The appellate court does not cite RFRA in its discussion.
In July 2015, the Boone County sheriff’s office sent a letter to sex offenders informing them of the passage of Indiana’s serious sex offender law. The sheriff and the prosecutor’s office interpreted the statute as meaning sex offenders could face arrest if they went to a church that conducted Sunday school or offered child care.
The three offenders sued the Boone County prosecutor, claiming the law put a burden on their exercise of religion.
The ACLU of Indiana joined the men in their lawsuit. A representative from the ACLU could not be reached Tuesday afternoon.
The three offenders included a former Illinois man who used a computer to solicit a minor; a Boone County man convicted of child seduction and possession; and a Boone County man convicted of child seduction who attends church with his wife.
In sending the case back to Boone County, the appellate court noted that the child seduction crimes did not involve children in the age group under the state statute.