Thursday, April 7, 2016

Alabama pastor wins round in freedom of religion lawsuit

Triumph Church

It is a small victory. The battle is far from over.

http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2016/04/alabama_pastor_wins_round_in_f.html

Alabama pastor wins round in freedom of religion lawsuit

By Mike Cason | mcason@al.com 
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on April 07, 2016 at 8:38 AM
A Chilton County pastor has won a round in his federal lawsuit challenging a state law that ended his residential ministry for sex offenders.

U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins on Wednesday denied the state's requests to dismiss the claims by Ricky Martin, who sued in 2014.

Martin, pastor of the Triumph Church, provided housing for sex offenders who were released from prison in campers on property he owned behind the church.

Martin and his wife live next door to the church, which is on the outskirts of Clanton.

About a dozen men normally lived there at one time, a total of about 60 during the whole time Martin operated the settlement, according to Watkins' order.

State law restricts where sex offenders can live. For example, they cannot live within 2,000 feet of a school or child care facility.

Two years ago, the Legislature passed a bill, pertaining only to Chilton County, that prohibited two or more registered sex offenders from living on the same property unless the homes were at least 300 feet apart.

That forced Martin to evict the men living on his property.

In his lawsuit, Martin claimed the law infringed upon his right to freely practice his religion under the First Amendment, among other claims.

Chilton County District Attorney Randall Houston, named as defendant in the case, asked the court to dismiss it.

But Watkins ruled on Wednesday that Martin had sufficiently made a claim that the law "creates a burden on his sincerely held religious beliefs," allowing the case to proceed.

Watkins also allowed Martin to proceed on claims that the law is a "bill of attainder" because it singled him out and that the law violates his due process rights.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama is representing Martin in the case.

"We're really quite encouraged by the judge's opinion," ALCU of Alabama Legal Director Randall Marshall said Wednesday.

The attorney general's office, which represents Houston, declined comment.

C.J. Robinson, a prosecutor with the Chilton County district attorney's office, told the Associated Press two years ago that he did not doubt the sincerity of Martin's ministry, but said it was not safe having that many sex offenders in one place.

Former state Rep. Kurt Wallace of Maplesville said at the time he sponsored the bill that families who lived near the church were worried about the safety.

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