April 25, 2017
certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division,
whose opinion is reported at 445 N.J.Super. 49 (App. Div.
Claudia Joy Demitro, Deputy Attorney General, argued the
cause for appellant (Christopher S. Porrino, Attorney General
of New Jersey, attorney; Claudia Joy Demitro, of counsel and
on the briefs).
S. Perrone argued the cause for respondent (Alison S.
Perrone, on the brief).
TEVIPONE, J., writing for the Court.
appeal, the Court determines whether a youth ministry
associated with a church or religious organization is exempt
from the definition of a "youth serving
organization" under N.J.S.A. 2C:7-22, a provision of
S.B. was a congregant of the Eternal Life Christian Center
(ELCC), a registered non-profit and religious institution.
Defendant was also subject to Megan's Law because of two
sexual assault convictions in 1991. To comply with the
Megan's Law reporting requirements, defendant notified
the ELCC pastors and elders of his convictions. Defendant
participated in the church's No Limits Youth Ministry
(NLYM), the stated goal of which is "to prepare students
to be effective at home, junior high, senior high, and
on defendant's participation in the NLYM, the grand jury
indicted him for third-degree prohibited participation in a
"youth serving organization, " in violation of
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-23. Defendant moved to dismiss the indictment,
arguing that the NLYM was not a youth serving organization
under Megan's Law.
trial court granted defendant's motion, reasoning that
the statute was vague with respect to how religious
institutions fit within the definition of youth serving
organization. The court distinguished the case from State
v. J.B.W., 434 N.J.Super. 550 (App. Div. 2014), which
found a violation of Megan's Law where a defendant
participated in a school marching band's pit crew because
it was separate from the school, making the statute's
school exemption inapplicable.
State appealed; the Appellate Division affirmed the
indictment's dismissal. 445 N.J.Super. 49, 58-59 (2016).
The panel rejected the State's argument that the
definition of youth serving organization encompassed the
NLYM. LI at 55. It reasoned that because the definition does
not specifically address religious organizations, the
Legislature did not intend to include religious organizations
in the definition of youth serving organization.
Court granted the State's petition for certification. 227
NI 124 (2016).
A plain-language reading of N.J.S.A. 2C:7-22 does not exempt
a youth ministry associated with a church or other religious
organization from the definition of "youth serving
N.J.S.A. 2C:7-23(a) provides, in relevant part, that "it
shall be unlawful for an excluded sex offender to hold a
position or otherwise participate, in a paid or unpaid
capacity, in a youth serving organization." N.J.S.A.
2C:7-22 defines "youth serving organization" as
"a sports team, league, athletic association or any
other corporation, association or organization, excluding
public and nonpublic schools, which provides recreational,
educational, cultural, social, charitable or other activities
or services to persons under 18 years of age." (p. 7)
text of N.J.S.A. 2C:7-22 is clear on its face: "[A]ny
other corporation, association, or organization" that
provides activities or services to minors is a youth serving
organization. Churches clearly fall within the blueprint of
the statute and its "any other" language. The
statute's only exemption is "public and nonpublic
schools." N.J.S.A. 2C:7-22. The Legislature decidedly
and explicitly exempted schools. It chose not to
categorically exempt any other type of organization,
including religious organizations, (pp. 7-8)
Legislature's primary objective in enacting Megan's
Law was to create a registration system that provided law
enforcement officials "with additional information
critical to preventing and promptly resolving" incidents
of child sexual abuse. N.J.S.A. 2C:7-1. Any ambiguity would
have been interpreted in a manner favoring the protection of
children to effectuate the statute's legislative intent,
Court rejects defendant's contention that the Appellate
Division's decision in J.B.W. compels the
conclusion that the NLYM is not a youth serving organization.
Whereas organizations affiliated with schools must be shown
to be sufficiently separate from those schools to fall
outside the statute's school exclusion, that is not so
with organizations affiliated with religious institutions.
The Legislature specifically excluded "public and
non-public schools" from the definition of youth serving
organization but did not provide a similar exclusion for
religious or any other type of organization, (pp. 9-12)
Court briefly comments on the Appellate Division's
speculation concerning N.J.S.A. 2C:7-22 and the Free Exercise
Clause of the United States Constitution. The constitutional
question was neither raised by the parties nor necessary to
the analysis. This matter is purely an issue of statutory
interpretation and legislative intent, (pp. 12-13)
judgment of the Appellate Division is REVERSED, the
indictment is REINSTATED, and the matter is REMANDED to the
trial court for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
JUSTICE RABNER and JUSTICES LaVECCHIA, ALBIN, PATTERSON,
FERNANDEZ-VTNA, and SOLOMON join ...