Rights Group Battles Georgia's Proposed Restrictions on Sex Offenders Living Near Churches

Opponents of a Georgia law that cracks down on where sex offenders can live are launching a new offensive to block a provision that could evict offenders who live within 1,000 feet of churches.

The Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights filed a motion Thursday that outlines the cases of nine anonymous elderly and disabled offenders who would be evicted from nursing homes, trailers or relatives' houses if the law is enforced.

"By virtue of their advanced age and/or physical condition, these plaintiffs are not a danger to anyone," a draft of the motion states. "Yet the law makes no exception for them."

The church provision was part of a sweeping law, which took effect July 1, that prohibits sex offenders from living, working or loitering within 1,000 feet of just about anywhere children gather — including schools, parks, gyms, bus stops and swimming pools.

In June, the center challenged the bus stop provision, leading to a ruling that said it could not be enforced unless school boards officially designated the stops. Three local school boards have since done so, but no offenders have been evicted from their homes, the center said.

Although the judge's order only affected the bus stop provision, county officials have been reluctant to enforce other parts of the law.

The center, however, said some authorities have recently begun to enforce the church provision, citing central Georgia's Houston County, where deputies have told 61 offenders living near churches they must move.

Ruby Anderson, whose 81-year-old husband was convicted of statutory rape more than a decade ago, tried to move after getting the notice from authorities in August, but rents were too steep.

Her husband, who has advanced Alzheimer's disease, poses no threat, she said.

"I'm not saying that they shouldn't be concerned about these things," Anderson said. "I'm not saying that at all. But we're not going to be a problem."

Supporters have repeatedly argued that the law is crucial to protecting the state's most vulnerable people: children.

"The most important thing to remember is that the protection of our children should be our top priority," said House Majority Leader Jerry Keen, the Republican sponsor of the law. "Georgia's new laws regarding sex offenders are among the toughest in the nation and reflect the desire of the people of Georgia to provide a safe, secure environment for our children."