A sheriff in one of North Carolina’s smallest counties told registered sex offenders they can’t go to church, citing a state law meant to keep them from day-care centers and schools.
Graham County Sheriff Danny Millsaps told sex offenders about his decision Feb. 17, according to a letter the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times obtained Friday. About 9,000 people live in Graham County, which abuts Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Tennessee line in far western North Carolina.
“This is an effort to protect the citizens and children of the community of Graham (County),” he wrote. “I cannot let one sex offender go to church and not let all registered sex offenders go to church.”
He invited them to attend services at the county jail.
In an interview Friday, Millsaps said he may have made a mistake when he wrote that offenders “are not permitted to attend church services.”
He said he understands the Constitution gives everyone the right to religious freedom. But he said he’s standing by his take on North Carolina law blocking offenders from places where children are present.
“I understand I can’t keep them from going to church,” he said. “That may have been misunderstood. I’ll be the first one to say I might have made mistakes in the wording of that letter.”
Millsaps has no immediate plans to arrest a sex offender should one of the 20 in his county attend church Sunday, he said.
Graham County Manager Greg Cable said the county attorney is looking into the matter and any legal mistakes would be corrected.
At the Citizen-Times‘ request, the American Civil Liberties Union in Raleigh is reviewing Millsaps’ letter. The newspaper also sent a copy to the North Carolina Department of Justice for an opinion on the law.
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SOURCE: USA Today – Jon Ostendorff