James Nichols was convicted of attempted rape and taking indecent liberties with a young girl. After serving a six year sentence, Nichols was released in September of 2008. Upon the release, Nichols began attending the Moncure Baptist Church in Chatham County, North Carolina. In March of the following year, he was arrested on the property owned by the church for being within 300 feet of a building with a nursery.
According to a news report by The News and Observer
, Nichols had informed the pastor of the church of his previous criminal history. Nichols had also registered as a sex offender as required by law. Unknown to Nichols, a law passed in December of 2008 prohibited him from attending church in the same building that housed the nursery for the congregation. The law also included schools, playgrounds, day cares and children’s museums.
Nichols and his lawyer, Glenn Gerding have chosen to fight the law as being a violation of personal freedoms. The American Civil Liberties Union has also joined the fight to repeal the law. North Carolina state Senator David Hoyle stands behind the law which he authored,
"They have made that choice [to be a sex offender]. They have imposed that on themselves. I didn’t."
Nichols is not the first person to be arrested for attending church after serving time for a sex offense. In August of 2008, Ricky Jo Asbury was arrested at Blackwelder Baptist Church in Kannapolis, North Carolina, according to the Kannapolis Citizen & Researcher
. Asbury had been attending the church regularly when the congregation noticed a change in his demeanor when he attended Sunday school classes. The church ran a background check which revealed the criminal history.
When Asbury was asked by the church to leave the building during a children’s class, he refused. The police were called to the scene and Asbury was arrested for trespassing and disorderly conduct. Asbury refused an amendment to his probation and was forced to serve 88 days in jail. Unlike Nichols, Asbury was arrested prior to the law change in North Carolina. Had Asbury been arrested after December of 2008, he would have been charged with a Class H Felony. A Class H Felony
for someone with a previous felony conviction could mean serving 12 additional years in jail.