By LOIS . . . As the North Carolina Mountain State Fair re-opens this week, one group of citizens will be denied admittance because of restrictions imposed by NCGS § 14-208.18 pushed through the Legislature in 2017 (after a previous version of the same law was held unconstitutional in Does v. Cooper). The newer legislation prohibits anyone whose name appears on the state’s sex offender registry from attending this fair, or any other agricultural fair in the entire state. This rule is just the tip of the iceberg—just one highlight of a law that goes on to limit or prohibit a registrant’s presence on school grounds, to access parks and recreational areas, to find employment or even a place to live and provide for himself and his family. All these issues are fragments of unjust and unconstitutional body of law.
If you have any compassion for your fellow man, or any concern for civil rights, human rights and justice, it behooves you to read David Feige’s well-timed op-ed column (New York Times, Sept. 12, 2017) https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/12/opinion/when-junk-science-about-sex-offenders-infects-the-supreme-court.htmland and to view the accompanying eight minute video which addresses the distorted stereotyping of citizens labeled as sex offenders as well as the concomitant explosion of sex offender legislation https://narsol.org/2017/09/breaking-the-frightening-and-high-myth/.
It is unfathomable that the highest Court in our nation relied on false information by which to support sex offender legislation. Support of such legislation, based on fear and inaccurate information over and above actual facts, is an affront to human rights, human decency, and to the livelihoods of our nation’s registered citizens and their families.
Mr. Feige emphasizes that in the coming months new cases before our highest court provide ample opportunity for re-examination of real evidence and real data. It follows that our state (and others) should do the same. Reliance by our highest Court on the falsehoods of an article published in a 1986 edition of Psychology Today (e.g. that recidivism rates of sex offenders are “frightening and high”), and to base laws on this falsehood is, by itself, perverse and ominous. There is numerous reputable research indicating that sex offender recidivism rates are quite low; on average about 3%. To base our nation’s laws on this “junk science,” to devastate a person’s ability to live in the community, to hold a job, and to provide a livelihood for himself and family, all these things are an affront to human decency, and no less our Constitution.
In re-examining sex offender registration laws, the Supreme Court and North Carolina must ask: What evidence exists to support them as valid and effective? Who are they for? Do they really keep children safer? What impact do they have on our citizens, our communities, and our businesses? Is there a political agenda here? Anyone who professes to legislate on behalf of our children’s safety is likely to get a vote, but fear-based laws based on false information, steeped in hysteria and ignorance, do more harm than good. We have only to look at Japanese internment camps during World War II for an example of how hysteria corrupts sound, constitutional law.
North Carolina doesn’t really have to wait for the Supreme Court to rights its wrong. It’s time our state set a good example for the nation to follow. We don’t need another HB2, another Packingham, or another Does v. Cooper to force us to do the right thing. North Carolina can reform its image, and, more importantly, take the higher ground by deciding to set a precedence of inclusiveness, by respecting the rights of all its citizens, and by allowing people who have committed crimes the opportunity to reintegrate and rejoin our communities as they demonstrate adherence to just and rational laws. Ostracization and exclusion only serve to breed more crime and dependence, not growth or productivity.
It’s my fervent hope that next September, the North Carolina Mountain State Fair will welcome ALL the citizens of North Carolina to celebrate the wondrous bounties of its state. As abundant flowers draw the honey bee, laws that promote civil rights and human dignity foster growth and resilience.