CHICAGO – Bob Levan bought season passes to Six Flags Great America (search) for his daughters and their best friend, but he is worried he won't be able to ride the roller coasters with them because he is a convicted sex offender (search).
Six Flags added wording on the back of season passes to all 30 of its U.S. amusement parks this year stating that it reserves the right to refuse entry to anyone convicted of a sex crime.
The amusement park said it does not actually plan to run background checks on everyone entering the park, but visitors seen acting inappropriately could be subjected to a check and thrown out.
Still, the warning was enough to concern Levan.
"My 13-year-old girl read this on the back of the pass and said, `Now Daddy, does this mean you can never take me to Great America?'" he said. "I am 350 percent for protecting children, and that just bugs me."
Debbie Nauser, a spokeswoman for Oklahoma City-based Six Flags, said the wording provides "an extra level of protection" for park visitors and was done on the advice of the company's outside attorneys.
In 2000, a 19-year-old ride operator at Great America in Gurnee was sentenced to four years in prison for molesting three girls while strapping them into Yogi Bear's Yahoo River boat ride. The arrest spurred a lawsuit that resulted in $1.4 million payments to two of the victims.
Amusement parks have long reserved the right to throw out anyone misbehaving. But Six Flags is the first chain of U.S. amusement parks to specifically state on its tickets that sex offenders can be denied entry or removed, said Beth Robertson, a spokeswoman for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (search).
"This is not anything really different," she said. "All it does is really clarify their language."
Levan was convicted of molesting an 8-year-old relative when he was 16. He served a brief jail sentence and underwent treatment in a mental health facility. Now 35, the divorced information technology worker is raising a family in suburban Chicago.
Andrea D. Lyon, president of the Illinois Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, complained that the language sends the message that sex offenders are social outcasts despite whatever steps they may have taken to rehabilitate themselves.
"It just seems to me that — to some degree — it's public grandstanding to make people feel like Six Flags is safe: We can send our kids there because they are going to throw out the sex offenders," Lyon said. "If they are not going to do a background check on everyone walking through the door, what's the point?"