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Doe v. The Boone County Prosecutor

Court of Appeals of Indiana

October 24, 2017

John Doe 1, et al., Appellants/Cross-Appellees, Plaintiffs,
v.
The Boone County Prosecutor, in his official capacity, et al., Appellees/Cross-Appellants, Defendants.

         Appeal from the Boone Superior Court The Honorable Matthew C. Kincaid, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 06D01-1605-PL-225

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS Kenneth J. Falk Jan P. Mensz ACLU of Indiana Indianapolis, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE BOONE COUNTY PROSECUTOR Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Aaron T. Craft Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE BOONE COUNTY SHERIFF Robert V. Clutter Taylor, Chadd, Minnette, Schneider & Clutter, P.C. Lebanon, Indiana

          Robb, Judge.

         Case Summary and Issues

         [¶1] In July of 2015, the Sheriff of Boone County, Indiana, sent a letter to his county's registered sex offenders informing them of the passage of Indiana's "serious sex offender" law. This law prohibits "serious sex offenders" from entering "school property." Under the Boone County Sheriff and Prosecutor's (the "State") interpretation of the statute and the definition of "school property, " "serious sex offenders" cannot attend church, without facing arrest and prosecution, if their church conducts Sunday school or has child care for children of the ages described in the statute.

         [¶2] John Doe 1, John Doe 2, and John Doe 3 (collectively, "Appellants") are residents of Boone County and are "serious sex offenders" pursuant to the statute. Desiring to attend church, Appellants filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief alleging their churches are not "school property" within the meaning of the statute, and, if they are "school property, " the statute violates Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA") by placing a substantial burden on their exercise of religion. Following a hearing, the trial court denied Appellants' requested relief but for a declaration they may attend church when Sunday school or child care is not being actively conducted on the premises.

         [¶3] Appellants now appeal, raising three issues for our review: 1) whether the trial court erred in concluding the churches are "school property" at any time; 2) if the churches are "school property, " whether the statute and the State's efforts to enforce the statute violate RFRA; and 3) whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying Appellants' request for a permanent injunction. The State cross-appeals, arguing the trial court erred in concluding the churches are not "school property" when they are not actively conducting Sunday school or child care. Concluding the Appellants' churches are not "school property" within the meaning of the statute, we reverse and remand with instructions for the trial court to enter an order granting Appellants' motion for a permanent injunction.[1]

         Facts and Procedural History[2]

         [¶4] In 2015, the Indiana General Assembly passed Indiana Code section 35-42-4-14. Subsection (a) of this statute classifies persons who are required to register as sex offenders and found to be a sexually violent predator or convicted of certain sexual criminal offenses as "serious sex offenders." Subsection (b) of this statute prohibits "serious sex offenders" from knowingly or intentionally entering "school property."

         [¶5] "School property, " as used in the serious sex offender statute, is defined by Indiana Code section 35-31.5-2-285. Relevant to the facts of this case, "school property" is defined as a "federal, state, local, or nonprofit program or service operated to serve, assist, or otherwise benefit children who are at least three (3) years of age and not yet enrolled in kindergarten . . . ." Ind. Code § 35-31.5-2-285(1)(D).

         [¶6] In July of 2015, the Boone County Sheriff sent a letter to the county's registered sex offenders informing them of the recent passage of Indiana's "serious sex offender" law. Citing these two statutes, the letter provided if the offenders' churches have "programs that benefit children who are at least three (3) years of age and not yet enrolled in kindergarten, which most churches have childcare and/or Sunday school classes for children, then the offender is prohibited from entering those facilities." Appellants' Appendix, Volume 2 at 36. The letter also provided the offenders are permitted to attend church "[a]s long as the church has only regular services and has no Sunday school for the age group denoted in the new law." Id.

         [¶7] John Doe 1 is a Boone County, Indiana, resident and a "serious sex offender" under Indiana law. John Doe 1 was convicted in another state of soliciting a minor through the use of a computer and is currently on probation, although he is not prohibited by the terms and conditions of his probation from attending church. He is an active member of his church which he attends multiple times each month. His church conducts Sunday school programming for children, including children who are at least three years old and who are not yet enrolled in kindergarten. At his church, Sunday school takes place in the time between the two traditional Sunday morning church services. His church also offers programs during the week for children including pre-school, pre-kindergarten, and kindergarten programs.

         [¶8] John Doe 2 is a Boone County resident and "serious sex offender" under Indiana law. John Doe 2 was convicted of child seduction and is not on probation or parole. He and his wife regularly attend their church. John Doe 2's church conducts Sunday school programming for children, including children who are at least three years old and who are not yet enrolled in kindergarten. At his church, Sunday school programming is offered during the church services. After receiving the letter from the Boone County Sheriff, John Doe 2 contacted the employee of the Boone County Sheriff's Department responsible for sex offender registration who informed him that under the law he may no longer attend his church and there were no churches in Boone County he could attend as they all offer Sunday school. See id. at 73.

         [¶9] John Doe 3 is a Boone County resident and "serious sex offender" under Indiana law. John Doe 3 was convicted of child seduction and possession of child pornography. He is not on probation or parole, although even when he was on parole, he was approved to attend church. John Doe 3 formerly attended his church every Sunday and also attended a men's group on Monday evenings. John Doe 3's church conducts Sunday school programming for children, including children who are at least three years old and who are not yet enrolled in kindergarten. At his church, Sunday school is offered during each church service.

         [¶10] On May 26, 2016, Appellants filed their complaint against the State seeking declaratory and injunctive relief and damages. The Appellants' complaint alleged the State misinterpreted Indiana Code section 35-42-4-14 and, in doing so, violated Indiana's RFRA.[3] On June 20, 2016, Appellants filed their motion for an injunction and the trial court set the matter for hearing on September 26, 2016. On August 12, 2016, Appellants filed an unopposed motion to dismiss their claim for damages. The parties filed their stipulation of facts on September 20, 2016.

         [¶11] Following the hearing on September 26, 2016, the trial court issued its findings of fact and conclusions thereon denying relief to the Appellants. The trial court concluded the Appellants' churches are not at all times "school property" within the meaning of the statute. Rather, in the trial court's view, the churches are "school property" only when they hold programs for children who are at least three years old and not yet enrolled in kindergarten. If the Appellants attend church during the time "Sunday Schools, vacation bible schools and pre-schools" are being conducted, they may be prosecuted and arrested. Id. at 16. If a church does not hold such programming, or it is not held during a church service, their churches are not "school property" and Appellants are free to attend church without fear of arrest. Further, the trial court concluded the State's interpretation of the "serious sex offender" law did not violate Indiana's RFRA. The trial court concluded the Appellants failed to demonstrate a "substantial burden" on their exercise of religion and, even if they had, the State's infringement upon their religious exercise was in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and was the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.

         [¶12] Appellants filed their motion to correct error on November 30, 2016. The trial court denied their motion on December 5, 2016. Appellants now appeal.

         Discussion and Decision

         I. Appellants' Churches are Not ...


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