For churches and other religious institutions that intentionally practice theologically-oriented hospitality, registered sex offenders present a conundrum. How can a worshipping organization practice hospitality, generosity, and grace while protecting its members from harm and protecting itself from liability? The short answer: it depends. Religious institutions need to carefully weigh their potential liability against the resources they have available to mentor, supervise, and minister to registered sex offenders.
What’s at stake?
Welcoming registered sex offenders into a religious body may align with ministry philosophy and goals, but organizations must balance their desire to welcome with the need to protect. A church has no legal obligation to permit a registered sex offender to attend. Any permission granted should be contingent upon the church’s ability to exercise oversight and provide discipleship. In granting permission, the church exposes itself to significant risks: that the sex offender will again commit harmful behavior; punitive damages for negligence; negative media attention; and liability for board members who fail to implement sufficient safeguards. Smaller churches with limited resources for oversight may choose to exclude all registered sex offenders from the church.
Guidelines for safeguards
If a church chooses to allow registered sex offenders to participate in services and activities, it should have a proactive policy in place that emphasizes the church’s care for its entire church body. We also recommend that the church use a restrictive access agreement, signed by the registered sex offender, in order to minimize legal risk. An individual’s church participation should be conditioned upon their willingness to submit to oversight and abide by the conditions of the agreement. Both the policy and the agreement should include the following elements.