We’re already in touch with the fact that the current raft of Arkansas legislators is dominated by individuals whose policy positions are misguided, so it was no real surprise when we read that a bill had advanced that would restrict registered sex offenders from living near churches.

We’re already in touch with the fact that the current raft of Arkansas legislators is dominated by individuals whose policy positions are misguided, so it was no real surprise when we read that a bill had advanced that would restrict registered sex offenders from living near churches.


Already, sex offenders cannot live within 2,000 feet of a school, daycare, park or youth center. House Bill 1164, sponsored by State Senator Linda Collins-Smith, Republican of Pocahontas, would keep violent sexual predators from living within 2,000 feet of a church.The bill awaits Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s signature.


"I want people to feel welcome at our church; but, at the same time, we have to protect our children," said Amy Gagel, a Paragould mother.


Certainly, no one disputes the need to monitor registered sex offenders and to preciously guard the safety of children. No one. But, unfortunately, this is just one more bit of uninformed policy that has almost zero support from people who are experts on the effectiveness of residency restrictions.


In a 2011 study, a University of New Mexico professor, Kelly Socia, among the nation’s leading experts in this area, states: "[D]espite being popular with many politicians and residents, these policies are simply not effective at achieving the intended goals of protecting residents from (registered sex offenders) in the community."


Jill Levenson, another leading scholar, concurs: "In fact, recidivism rates of known sex offenders are much lower than commonly believed, and properly designed treatment, though not equally effective for all offenders, can significantly reduce the risk of re-offending."


Then there’s the ugly truth undergirding the mass of child-victim sex offenses in the United States. As Levenson continues: "Restrictions also reinforce the myth of ‘stranger danger,’ despite research from the Justice Department indicating that over 90 percent of child sexual abuse victims are well known to their perpetrators, who typically cultivate opportunities for molestation through familiar relationships with relatives and acquaintances."


Closer to home, University of Arkansas at Little Rock criminal justice professor, Jeff Walker, concludes something similar in a 2007 publication: "Research on the impact of residency restrictions for sex offenders in the community has increasingly found little or no influence of such restrictions on reoffending, while they create negative consequences. States that have laws with residency restrictions for sex offenders should repeal them, and all States should examine existing research on the effects of various prevention measures before mandating particular measures."


This bill is especially ironic because Arkansas lawmakers want to erect a sterile buffer around the state’s churches. If you’re looking for the antithesis of Christian decency, this is it. Jesus dwelt with lepers, criminals and the demon-possessed. Maybe these folks don’t recall Matthew 9: 10-13. As Matthew joins Jesus, he and the disciples come together for a meal — along with other tax collectors and criminals: "But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with such scum?’When Jesus heard this, he said, ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor — sick people do.’ Then he added, "Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners."


Wanting to protect children is laudable, even noble, but this bill flouts scientific fact while at the same time keeping the very people most in need of guidance and healing far out of reach.