Court vetoes state's demand that churches all go gun-free

An appeals court has vetoed an attempt in the state of New York to demand that all churches go gun-free on their campuses.

The ruling from the 2nd U.S., Circuit Court of Appeals said “that houses of worship have a constitutionally protected freedom to decide for themselves whether to allow otherwise legally possessed firearms into their facilities,” said Erin Murphy, a lawyer at Clement & Murphy.

The report comes from First Liberty Institute which worked on the dispute.

The organization explained that the ruling “rejected the state of New York’s unconstitutional attempt to make His Tabernacle Family Church (‘His Tabernacle’)—and all houses of worship in New York—gun-free zones.”

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That church was one of several groups and people in multiple court battles fighting the state. It is a nondenominational church in Horseheads, N.Y., founded by Pastor Michael Spencer.

The court affirmed a preliminary injunction blocking the law in December which the state of New York appealed in January of 2023.

Jeremy Dys, of First Liberty Institute, said, “The court made it clear that the U.S. Constitution grants the right of self-defense for all Americans and houses of worship cannot be disarmed. No American should be forced to sacrifice one constitutionally protected freedom to enjoy another.”

Spencer noted, “We are grateful that the court protected our First Amendment freedoms to make decisions about the safety of our congregation.”

The court decision pointed out it was “hard to see how the law advances the interests of religious organizations, as a whole, by denying them agency to choose for themselves whether to permit firearms.”

The state had claimed the authority to prohibit the possession of firearms on those private properties, controlled by houses of worship, or in other “sensitive” areas.

The ruling explained it was the church, several individuals and a couple of advocacy groups that contested the state’s “Concealed Carry Improvement Act.”

It cited the Supreme Court’s Heller, McDonald and New York Rifle precedents.

The state, after the New York Rifle decision which struck the government’s demand for “proper cause” for a gun permit, the state adopted the CCIA. That scheme made it illegal to carry in “sensitive locations” even if individuals held concealed-carry permits.

In that action, the state specified a lengthy list of those “sensitive” locations to include all government locations, all schools, anything used as a polling place, any “health” organization, any location serving alcohol, any “performance” locations like a theater, private property and more.

The various organization challenged it as unconstitutional. The lower courts had ruled for the church on Free Exercise, Establishment and Second Amendment grounds.

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