Church protests insurance rules for sex offenders

MEDFORD, Ore. — An Oregon church is challenging a requirement by its insurance company that it disclose the identity of sex offenders to other congregants, allow offenders to attend only one predetermined service and assign them an escort.

Pastor Chad McComas of Set Free Christian Fellowship in Medford said his church disclosed that known sex offenders were among the 100 members. Church Mutual insurance company on May 1 responded with a letter outlining requirements to continue an insurance policy.

Besides announcing disclosing the names of sex offenders, limiting them to one service and providing escorts, the church is required to keep sex offenders out of child or youth programs.

McComas told the Mail Tribune that the rules will have a chilling effect on disclosure.

The rules lump an 18-year-old convicted of abuse for sex with his 17-year-old girlfriend with more serious abusers. The rules will encourage abusers to go underground, he said.

“Where does that line go? They’re throwing everyone in the same boat,” McComas said.

Church Mutual insures more than 100,000 religious organizations and has covered nearly 5,000 sex-related claims since 1984, said Patrick Moreland, vice president of marketing for Church Mutual.

The rules were developed by attorneys and are designed to protect the organization from the “legal hot water” of sexual misconduct and molestation claims, he said. They also protect potential victims, Moreland said.

“Our No. 1 goal is to protect our churches and our children,” Moreland said.

McComas said he doesn’t want his church to have the reputation as “the sex-offender church” but the issue is about principle and what’s possible.

“We deal with a lot of members who have addiction backgrounds. That’s part of who we serve. But that’s not all of who we serve,” McComas said. “We know who our members are. We are being careful and diligent. But how often are we going to have to tell the congregation that someone is a sex offender? The congregation changes all the time.”

The Rev. Pam Shepherd of the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Ashland said churches must keep children and youth safe. Her church is insured and performs background checks on all Bible school teachers, youth ministers and others who deal with minors. No one in their congregation has disclosed any sex crimes. Shepherd said, however, she has never seen a letter like the one McComas received.

“There are no known sex offenders coming to our church,” Shepherd said. “But if all sex offenders glowed orange, people might be surprised to see who they are sitting next to.”

Convicted sex offender Dave Schmidt, 66, said he attends Set Free services to worship, not to seek out additional victims.

If he’s driven out of Set Free by insurance company policies, he said, he will simply go to new churches, one week at time if necessary.

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