The U.S. Supreme Court sent GeorgiaCarry.org and a Georgia minister a clear message today: the ban on having firearms in churches will not be overturned in Georgia. This comes after repeated attempts to overturn a state law that allows gun holders to carry firearms in many public places, but stops short of allowing them in churches and other places of worship.
The case was brought by Rev. Jonathan Wilkins of the Baptist Tabernacle, with the assistance of GeorgiaCarry.org, a Georgia-based gun lobby. The reverend claimed that the restriction violated his first amendment right to practice his religion. His claim stated that his parishioners had a right to protect themselves while on church property. In reality, the reverend wanted to get the state law overturned so that he could carry a gun while working in his office. The exact question as listed in the lawsuit to the U.S. Supreme Court is as follows:
Does a state criminal law that targets religion, and is neither neutral nor generally applicable, pass strict scrutiny muster under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment?
The defeat comes after repeated attempts to overturn a Georgia law at the lower level courts. The law that the suit was attempting to change was passed in 2010. The law does not allow firearms to be carried in places that are deemed sensitive. These places include jails, courthouses, mental health facilities, and houses of worship.
One can see why the court ruled as it did when reading what qualifications must be met under the 1st Amendment. In a brief filed earlier in the case by lawyers for the Defendants, Upson County, Georgia, the law requires the the following:
The plaintiffs must believe his religion compels him to take the actions alleged being burdened.
In other words, the reverend must prove that tenets of his religion require that he carry a firearm, and that by not doing so, he is harmed.
While the defeat might seem like the end for this action, the plaintiffs have a Plan B in place. Newly-elected House Republican, Charles Gregory, has already set the wheels in motion to get the law changed at the state level. While it’s too early to say whether or not this bill, or any like it, will be enacted, gun zealots will surely be waiting anxiously for the day they can all sing the praises of being able to carry their Bible in one hand and their gun in the other.