An Indiana Court of Appeals on Thursday heard the case of John Doe, et al. v. The Boone County Prosecutor, et al., 06A01-1612-PL-02741, which the ACLU of Indiana brought on behalf of three John Doe registered sex offenders who under Indiana Code 35-42-4-14, prohibits them from entering school property or enter a building that provides programming for children under three years of age, including churches!
The Does, who each regularly attended church, ceased attending and instead brought suit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief.The Plaintiffs claim the law violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
A decision on the case is pending. In the mean time, you can watch oral argument here: https://mycourts.in.gov/arguments/default.aspx?&id=2128&view=detail&yr=&when=&page=1&court=app&search=&direction=%20ASC&future=False&sort=&judge=&county=&admin=False&pageSize=20
Here’s the case summary:
Plaintiffs John Doe 1, John Doe 2, and John Doe 3 reside in Boone County and are classified as “serious sex offenders” pursuant to a state statute enacted on July 1, 2015. Prior to July 1, 2015, each plaintiff regularly attended a church that offered some form of programming for children. However, a serious sex offender is prohibited from entering school property, which is defined to include a nonprofit program or service operated to serve, assist, or otherwise benefit children who are at least three years old and not yet enrolled in kindergarten. In July 2015, each plaintiff received a letter from the Boone County Sheriff’s Office informing them that they cannot enter a church facility if the facility has organized programs for pre-school children, including Sunday School. The Boone County Prosecutor’s Office was aware of the letter and agrees with the Sheriff’s assessment. The plaintiffs stopped attending their churches after receiving this letter.
Desiring to return to church, the plaintiffs filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief alleging the statute defining school property, and the defendants’ interpretation of it, violates Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) by placing a substantial burden on the plaintiffs’ exercise of religion. Following a hearing, the trial court found the churches are only “school property” at times when children’s programming is actively occurring. The trial court further found this interpretation of the statute does not substantially burden the plaintiffs’ exercise of religion and therefore does not violate RFRA. The plaintiffs now appeal the trial court’s judgment denying them all relief but for a declaration that they can attend church when children’s programming is not being conducted. The plaintiffs argue: 1) the trial court erred in finding the churches are “school property” at any time; and 2) if the churches are “school property,” the statute and the defendants’ efforts to enforce the statute violate RFRA. The defendants cross-appeal, arguing the trial court erred in finding the churches are not school property at all times.