Today’s GeorgiaCarry.org v. Georgia (11th Cir. July 20, 2012)
upholds the ban against a challenge under the Free Exercise Clause and the Second Amendment. An excerpt (some paragraph breaks added):
"[A.] In 2010, the Georgia legislature, apparently concerned that the carrying of [knives and handguns] and long guns would likely present an unreasonable risk of harm to people who assemble in eight specific locations [including "place[s] of worship”], enacted a statute barring the unrestricted carrying of weapons or long guns in those locations. This statutory bar does not apply, however, to a [concealed carry] license holder if, on arriving at one of the eight locations, such person “approaches security or management personnel upon arrival … and notifies such security or management personnel of the presence of the weapon or long gun and explicitly follows the security or management personnel’s direction for removing, securing, storing, or temporarily surrendering such weapon or long gun.” The refusal to approach security or management personnel or to comply with management’s direction is a misdemeanor….
"[B.] We conclude that the Amended Complaint fails to state a Free Exercise Clause challenge because Plaintiffs omit any factual matter showing how the Carry Law burdens a sincerely held religious belief. Plaintiffs argue that such an allegation is unnecessary if a law is subject to strict scrutiny because it is not neutral or generally applicable. The problem with that argument is that it misconstrues clear, well-established First Amendment precedent from both the Supreme Court and this court….
"[P]roperty law, tort law, and criminal law provide the canvas on which our Founding Fathers drafted the Second Amendment. A clear grasp of this background illustrates that the pre-existing right codified in the Second Amendment does not include protection for a right to carry a firearm in a place of worship against the owner’s wishes. Quite simply, there is no constitutional infirmity when a private property owner exercises his, her, or its — in the case of a place of worship — right to control who may enter, and whether that invited guest can be armed and the State vindicates that right. This situation, being a likely application of the Carry Law, illustrates that Plaintiffs cannot show that all or most applications of the Carry Law are unconstitutional. See United States v. Salerno."
This strikes me as correct. I can imagine an Establishment Clause argument that the law is unconstitutional because it singles out “place[s] of worship” for a special rule that doesn’t apply to comparable secular institutions. Given the Court’s unclear rule related to religion-specific laws, it’s not clear how such an argument would fare, but my sense is that it would probably lose, on the theory that the government has an interest in protecting religious worship — whether or not one agrees that such laws ultimately do end up protecting religious worship — that justifies enacting such special rules. (A similar theory has been used by lower courts to uphold special laws and sentencing enhancements for attacks on places of worship.) In any event, though, this does not seem to be the argument challengers made.
It seems to me that the court tried very hard to focus the decision on private property rights as opposed to dealing with the limits or extent of either First or Second Amendment rights. I am not sure I totally agree with their approach, which seemed to be that the churches make the ultimate decision as opposed to whether or not the enacted law violates a right.
Private property owners always had the option of saying they did not want firearms carried (openly, discretely, or in locked shipping containers) on their property. There was no need to create a separate law giving that power/ability to them - and, yes, I know that laws do not give powers but impose limits.
The law in question interjects - IMNSHO - the government into the discussion between the church through its property owners and the individual by creating standards which the individual must follow/steps the individual must comply with. No longer is the conversation between the individual and their church - the state now has a voice in the matter of how church and parishioner interact. To me this becomes a state-imposed restriction on how the individual expresses his religion. The issue of whether or not the carrying of a handgun is a tenent of belief or not is a red herring. And if they had honestly followed that line they should have come to the conclusion that all religions insist that self defense is a central expression of the religious belief. (Yes, some religions exalt those who martyr themselves for the sake of the religion, but none require it as a condition of expressing adherence.)
Up until the passage of the law churches, through their property owners, could control whether or not a person carried a firearm on that private property. The law only created a specific set of actions the parishioner must follow in seeking the permission of the private property owner - no more. The state criminalized the failure to follow these imposed steps, not the carrying of firearms at a worship service.
I'm not faulting the attornies for Georgia Carry for how this case was decided. I'm just sharing an opinion on why I think the outcome might have been different if the focus of the challenge was more along the lines suggested above.
The decision makes me realize again how fortunate I am here in Virginia where I am only constrained from carrying a weapon to a worship service for frivolous reasons - if my reason is "good and sufficient" I'm good to go. Of course, I still must comply with any decision of the private property owner. The state stuck its nose in only so far as to tell me to be serious about carrying at a worship service.
Good luck, Georgia.