When Amendments collide

A Bible, gun, keys and wallet on top of a table. (source: FMG Law)

(source: FMG Law)

On Monday, the Supreme Court of the United States recently refused to hear an appeal challenging a law in the state of Georgia that banned firearms from places of worship:

The high court today refused to hear an appeal from GeorgiaCarry.org, which wanted the justices to overturn a lower court decision upholding Georgia’s law banning guns in churches and other places of worship.

GeorgiaCarry.org argued that the ban applying specifically to places of worship burdens “religiously motivated conduct by regulating how or what a worshipper can do with a weapon while he is worshipping.”

Of interest is the redundant phrasing of “churches and other places of worship.” More importantly, the suit to challenge the state law was brought forward by pro-gun advocates who claimed that the ban of firearms from their place of worship violated both their First and Second Amendment rights to practice their religion freely and bear arms:

GeorgiaCarry.Org, a pro-gun group, the Baptist Tabernacle of Thomaston and two individuals — Edward Stone and Jonathan Wilkins — sued in a Georgia state court in July 2010. They challenged a state law that prohibited the unrestricted carrying of weapons in certain locations, including houses of worship.

The plaintiffs alleged that the restriction on carrying weapons in church violated both the First Amendment right to exercise religious faith freely and the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

The law was revised in 2010 to explicitly ban firearms in places of worship, nuclear power plants and government buildings. Before reaching the Supreme Court, the law suit was originally dismissed by a federal district court judge who rejected the plaintiff’s claim that a ban on carrying firearms into a place of worship violates their right to practice their religious faith:

U.S. District Judge Ashley Royal on Jan. 24 wrote that Georgia’s law does not violate First Amendment protections for free exercise of religion or the Second Amendment right to bear arms. The judge noted that members of the church had not claimed that their religious beliefs “require that any member carry a firearm into the Tabernacle, whether during worship services or otherwise.”

And the first appeal by the plaintiffs was also dismissed in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals:

The appeals court explained that a free-exercise claim requires a showing that the government law or practice substantially burdens the exercise of religious activity or practice. The appeals court said the plaintiffs failed to clear this hurdle.

“That Plaintiffs would like to carry a firearm in order to be able to act in ‘self-defense’ is a personal preference, motivated by a secular purpose,” the panel said. It added that “there is no First Amendment protection for personal preferences; nor is there protection for secular beliefs.”

Another significant aspect to this story is political intent within the state of Georgia to remove the ban on guns in places of worship:

Meanwhile, state Rep. Bobby Franklin, R-Marietta, on Jan. 24 filed legislation (H.B. 54) that would remove places of worship from the list of places where guns are prohibited.

Read more at The First Amendment Center.


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