The Alabama House of Representatives could pass a bill today to repeal a law that ended a Chilton County pastor’s ministry for sex offenders.
Pastor Ricky Martin provided transitional housing for sex offenders released from prison in trailers behind his church, Triumph Church, which is next door to his house.
The church is on a two-lane highway on the outskirts of Clanton.
A total of about 60 men lived on the property during the several years Martin operated the ministry, with generally 10 to 12 living there at any one time.
Chilton County officials said some residents in the area were concerned about having a group of sex offenders living together near them and began pursuing legislation to address that.
In 2014, the Legislature passed a law, pertaining only to Chilton County, prohibiting sex offenders who are not related from living on the same property unless their residences are at least 300 feet apart.
The law said that violations constituted a public nuisance subject to civil fines of $500 to $5,000.
Martin closed his ministry after the law passed. He filed a federal lawsuit claiming that the law violated his First Amendment right to practice his religion.
He also claimed the law violated the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which says governments need a compelling reason for regulations that place a burden on the exercise of religion.
The state asked the court to dismiss Martin’s lawsuit. But U.S District Judge W. Keith Watkins has denied those requests, most recently in a July 25 order.
Last Wednesday, during the first week of a special legislative session, the Alabama Senate passed a bill to repeal the 2014 law that Martin challenges in his lawsuit.
The bill is on a proposed agenda the House is expected to consider today.
“It’s quite clear, given the timing, that the legislative act to repeal it is a direct result of Pastor Martin’s lawsuit,” said attorney Randall Marshall of the ACLU of Alabama, who represents Martin.
Marshall said Martin plans to resume his ministry if the law is repealed.
By Mike Cason http://reformalabama.blogspot.com/