Society’s New Lepers

Leper colony The increasingly draconian nature of child pornography laws in the U.S. has been a frequent topic on this blog over the years.

In an effort to punish child predators, the laws have become so broadly interpreted and enforced that many citizens have become branded as child predators and forced to serve long prison sentences merely as a result of viewing child pornography.

Even after serving severe sentences, the victims of this modern day witch hunt are demonized further by being branded as child predators for life and prevented by law from living in anything but the least desirable neighborhoods in many communities.

As this NPR/All Things Considered article (H/T Doug Berman) explains, a Florida minister is trying to do something constructive for the society’s new lepers:

More than 20 states, including Florida, limit where convicted sex offenders can live — keeping them away from schools, parks and other places where children congregate.

In Miami, dozens of homeless sex offenders live under a bridge because there are few, if any, options nearby. But 90 miles away, there’s a community dedicated to housing sex offenders. [.  .  .]

This is the church at Miracle Park, a community mostly made up of sex offenders. Dick Witherow is their pastor. [.  .  .]

Witherow once had a ranch for sex offenders in Okeechobee County. But zoning law changes forced that facility to close. His search for another spot brought him here, to a small community he renamed Miracle Park. It’s a collection of duplexes about 3 miles east of the town of Pahokee, in rural Palm Beach County.

It’s surrounded on every side by sugar cane fields. About 40 of those living there now are sex offenders. [.  .  .]

Witherow has authored a book about sex offenders called The Modern Day Leper. He says he could have worn the same label as the men at Miracle Park. He was 18 years old when he met his first wife. She was just 14, and before long she was pregnant. A judge allowed them to get married but told Witherow he could have been charged with statutory rape.

"If that would have happened in today’s society, I would have been charged with sexual battery on a minor, been given anywhere from 10 to 25 years in prison, plus extended probation time after that, and then been labeled a sex offender," he says.

Witherow knows that there are those who argue that’s what should have happened.

Something to think about during a season that celebrates the birth of a savior who embraced the lepers of his day.

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