News Midday Update: Ga. sex offenders challenge church volunteer ban; Coastal Georgia’s Fort Frederica may expand; lightning sparks 800-plus fires in Calif.

Five sex offenders filed a lawsuit today claiming that a tough new Georgia law that bans them from volunteering at churches also robs them of their right to participate in religious worship.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Rome, claims the Georgia law effectively ‘‘criminalizes fundamental religious activities’’ for sex offenders and bars them from serving as a choir member, secretary, accountant or any other role with a religious organization.

‘‘Even helping a pastor with Bible study or preparing a meal in a church kitchen will subject (sex offenders) to prosecution and imprisonment,’’ the complaint said.

It is the latest of a growing list of legal challenges targeting Georgia’s strict sex offender statute, which was hailed by supporters in 2006 as one of the toughest in the nation but has since been the frequent focus of lawsuits contending it is far too restrictive.

The main portion of the measure bans sex offenders from living, working or loitering within 1,000 feet of just about anywhere children gather. That includes schools, parks, gyms, swimming pools and the state’s 150,000 school bus stops.

The original version of the law banned sex offenders from working at churches, but when it was retooled this year supporters slipped in a provision also banning them from volunteering at houses of worship. Doing so could risk a penalty of 10 to 30 years in prison.

— Associated Press

Coastal Georgia’s Fort Frederica may expand

Fort Frederica National Monument on St. Simons Island may expand its borders.

The park’s superintendent, Mary Beth Wester, is asking residents for their comments.

In 1742, Spanish and British forces fought on St. Simons Island. Fort Frederica’s troops defeated the Spanish, ensuring Georgia’s future as a British colony.

The archaeological remnants of the fort are protected by the National Park Service.

Fort Frederica is in the beginning stages of becoming partners with the St. Simons Land Trust to obtain 175 acres of land around its perimeter.

The National Park Service is conducting a boundary expansion study on the fort that will include a public information and feedback session Thursday at the park.

Wester says the park service would use the land to promote the preservation of the property, its history and culture.

- Associated Press

Lightning sparks 800-plus fires in Calif.

More than 840 wildfires sparked by an ‘‘unprecedented’’ lightning storm are burning across Northern California, alarming the governor and requiring the help of firefighters from Nevada and Oregon.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he was told late Sunday evening that the state had 520 fires, and he found it ‘‘quite shocking’’ that by Monday morning the number had risen above 700.

Moments later, a top state fire official standing at Schwarzenegger’s side offered a grim update. The figure was actually 842 fires, said Del Walters, assistant regional chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. All but a couple were in the northern part of the state.

‘‘This is an unprecedented lightning storm in California, that it lasted as long as it did, 5,000 to 6,000 lightning strikes,’’ Walters said. ‘‘We are finding fires all the time.’’

One fire had already blackened more than 10,000 acres — nearly 16 square miles — in a rural area of Lake County, about 120 miles north of San Francisco. No homes had been destroyed, but officials said voluntary evacuations were in place for residents of 36 homes.

A blaze that started in Napa County had moved into Solano County as it burned over an area more than 6 square miles. It was 60 percent contained and threatened about 250 homes about 40 miles southwest of Sacramento, said Kevin Colburn, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

– Associated Press


– Paddle Georgia is on the Flint River this year and we're going along for a leg of the trip that includes part of the midstate today. We'll tell you about the trip -- and share photos and video.

– The Macon-Bibb County Transit Authority board meets at 4 p.m. today to vote on cuts to routes and service related to their increased fuel costs and stagnant budget allocations from the city and county.


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