Graham County Sheriff Danny Millsaps sent a letter dated Feb. 17 to the county’s 20 registered sex offenders last month telling them that they are not allowed to attend church services.
Millsaps cited a North Carolina state law that prohibits sex offenders from being near places like day care centers and schools where children may be present.
"This is an effort to protect the citizens and children of the community of Graham (County)," Millsaps said in the letter. "I cannot let one sex offender go to church and not let all registered sex offenders go to church.”
Millsaps suggested the sex offenders go to church at the county jail instead of attending community services.
On Friday, however, Millsaps said he made a mistake when he wrote the letter to the convicts.
"I understand I can't keep them from going to church," he said. "That may have been misunderstood. I'll be the first one to say I might have made mistakes in the wording of that letter."
Other North Carolina police departments have dealt with similar issues.
In 2009, police deputies in Chatham County arrested a sex offender for attending church. Officials used the same law as Millsaps when they made the arrest. The state’s Supreme Court, however, ruled that the arrest was unconstitutional when the law was applied to churches.
Buncome County police officials said they allow sex offenders to attend churches as long as the parish’s pastor or priest knows and allows their presence.
Millsaps said he understands that his letter violates the Constitution’s right to religious freedom. He added he has not planned to arrest any sex offenders for attending religious services.
Graham County Manager Greg Cable said the county attorney is currently conducting an investigation and will correct any legal error resulting from the letter.