(CN) – An Oklahoma law that prohibits more than one sex offender from living in the same home will prevent a ministry from helping sex offenders find places to live, increasing danger to the public, the ministry claims in Federal Court.
Hand Up Ministries says it houses more than 200 registered sex offenders in mobile homes in south Oklahoma City. But the state is trying to reduce occupancy levels to one person per home, “which is in direct conflict with its faith based mission of offering help to as many men and women [as] possible who are coming out of prison,” the nonprofit claims.
Gov. Mary Fallin signed the law restricting individual dwelling for registered sex offenders in May 2011.
The law, which is slated to take effect July 1, makes it illegal for two or more registered sex offenders to live together in the same home. It also prohibits landlords from leasing or operating housing where sex offenders can share a living unit. Violators could face up to $5,000 in fines and five years in jail.
Sex offenders in Oklahoma must register their home address with local law-enforcement agencies for 15 years, 25 years or life, depending on the offense. State and Oklahoma City ordinances ban registered sex offenders from living near schools and other facilities, and limits housing opportunities, according to the complaint.
Hand Up Ministries, which offers temporary and permanent housing to registered sex offenders in three locations in Oklahoma, claims the new law would expose the ministry’s president, David Nichols, to criminal prosecution for trying to help sex offenders find living accommodations away from the general public.
It claims the ministry will be financially harmed by the loss of tenants, and many sex offenders will stop registering if they no longer have a permanent address.
The ministry says the law, which exempts private prisons housing multiple sex offenders and criminalizes previously legal activities, violates its equal-protection and due-process rights.
It wants Oklahoma enjoined from enforcing the law.
Hand Up Ministries and Nichols are represented by Chris Mudd.
The defendants are Oklahoma City, Oklahoma County Sheriff John Wetsel, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater and State Attorney General E. Scott Pruitt.