By Rev. Robert Lee . . . You might have heard quotes like these before: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” or “Judge not lest you be judged.” I’ve heard people quote these words many times, but not everyone knows the context, which is Biblical. In the story, a woman was accused of sexual sin and, according to the ancient law, brought out in front of everyone by religious leaders to be stoned. Her situation is also being exploited by them in order to discredit Jesus, who, instead of being discredited, with His love and compassion, showed them that no one, including each of them, is without sin, thus causing them to spare her life.
This story shows a cold and ruthless hypocrisy that has become an epidemic, one that has disenfranchised many, especially those on sexual offense registries.
A Gallup poll conducted in 2018 analyzed religious affiliation in each state. Residents were asked what faith they identified with, and the most popular answer was Protestant Christianity. But what states were the most religious? And which the least, according to self-reporting?
According to the poll, the top 3 states with the highest percentage of practicing Christians are Alabama at 77%, Mississippi at 75%, and Arkansas at 72%. States that were close to these were Tennessee, Georgia, West Virginia, South Carolina, Oklahoma and North Carolina. Roughly 3 out of 4 people in these states claim to be Christians.
This poll also discloses the other end of the spectrum, surveying states whose residents claim no religion. These are close in percentage, with many ties. They are Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Vermont, Oregon, Maine and Colorado.
An important question at this point is what does this have to do with sexual offense registry issues.
When taking this poll at face value, what states would you assume would most exemplify the Biblical teachings of compassion and mercy, as shown in the earlier Biblical story, when dealing with sexual offenders? Which states would you assume, in their mandated responsibility to maintain a registry and notification protocol, would most likely reflect the tenets of Christianity such as compassion, forgiveness, mercy, and pity, espousing rational sexual offense laws and open to the concepts of restorative justice and fact-based criminal justice reform?
While no state is free of misery and pain caused by the registry, some are clearly harsher than others.
Alabama, the “most Christian” state, is one of few states whose registry places a restriction scheme on not only residency but also employment. This limitation is across the board with no tier system to differentiate. An offender who was convicted 30 years ago of a misdemeanor crime can’t work at a McDonald’s that’s 1,998 feet from a daycare or school, even if the crime didn’t involve a child or a minor. Moreover, Alabama has a lifetime registry requirement for all, whether the conviction was for indecent exposure or forced rape. All registrants must report every three months to redundantly submit an exhaustive list of private information. Alabama has been trying and continues to try to require chemical castration of its sexual offense parolees. Alabama is one of very few states to brand registrants’ driving licenses. Little about this state’s policies toward registrants could be said to be compassionate or merciful.
However, Alabama is the state claiming more than any other that its citizens hold to the teachings of Jesus, whose compassion and mercy to all, and especially to those shunned by the rest of society, was unconditional.
Yet one could say that Alaska and several of the non-religious states are leaps and bounds closer to having policies that show forgiveness and compassion. Alaska does not have a blanket footage restriction on employment or residency. Those convicted of non-aggravated offenses are only required to register for 15 years. Registrants only have to report once a year to verify their information. They can be removed from the registry if they do not reoffend. When reviewing the statutes, the rules are clear and brief when compared to Alabama’s elaborate requirements.
The other states identified as Christian from the poll all have their own extensive residency, employment, and presence restrictions that apply to registrants. The non-religious states have none of these limitations, with the exception of Oregon and Washington which apply some restrictions to those labeled as “violent predators.”
Arkansas and Georgia, two of the most religious states, have implemented a malicious aspect to their residency restrictions involving churches. In Georgia, a state that also has a blanket lifetime registry, the law states that no offender can live or work 1000 feet from a church. This is even if the church doesn’t have a day care. But this monstrous restraint also encompasses volunteering at a church. Law enforcement officers in Georgia have stated that registrants who wished to volunteer in church positions would be in violation. And registered offenders in North Carolina who are on parole are prohibited from even attending church. The states that include churches in their restrictions are ironically those who are, according to the poll, the most “Christian.”
What states seem to continually clamor for more aggressive and heinous laws? What states come to mind when thinking of tearing children from their homes, posting signs in yards to shame registrants, and requiring senseless GPS monitoring?
Conversely, what states are slowly but surely making strides of reform? What states come to mind when seeing small victories towards implementation of more rational laws? What states make an honest attempt to assess each offender to determine his or her threat or likelihood of reoffense?
From every appearance, an inverse relationship seems clear. Those states that, according to their own self-evaluations, do not depend on the tenets of an organized religion to help them govern seem to embrace those tenets to a reasonably high degree. And the states that should, according to their self-profession of a faith that holds forgiveness and love as key tenets, seem to possess little to none of either when it comes to their governance of those who have convictions for any type of sexual crime.
An ancient Roman poet named Phaedrus said, ““Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many,” and Shakespeare wrote of one of his characters, “One can smile and smile and be a villain.”
Both seem to have application here.
Robert is one of two Alabama NARSOL contacts working on behalf of persons on the registry. He is a former school teacher who is now a chaplain and pastor.