Georgia guns-in-church ban upheld

The U.S. Supreme Court has left standing a ban on carrying firearms in houses of worship.

By Bob Allen

Georgia’s law banning the carrying of guns in churches will remain on the books after the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal Jan. 8 to revive the case of a Baptist minister who claimed it burdens his free exercise of religion.

In addition to a Second Amendment claim, Jonathan Wilkins, pastor of Baptist Tabernacle in Thomaston, Ga., argued the First Amendment’s “free exercise” clause prohibits states from banning activities in churches when such activities generally are permitted elsewhere in the state.

By declining to review the case, the Supreme Court upheld a ruling last July by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the First Amendment protects only “sincerely held religious belief” and not “personal preference and secular beliefs.”

Wilkins filed a complaint in 2010 after Georgia law was changed to ban firearms in certain places, including houses of worship, without the owner’s permission. Wilkins, who is licensed to carry a weapon, said he often worked alone in the church building after hours and would like to have church members armed for protection of members attending worship and other events.

“The handgun is the quintessential self-defense weapon in the United States,” the lawsuit stated, citing Americans’ constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

The appellate court said, however, that churches are not public places and the Second Amendment does not give an individual the right to carry a firearm on private property without the owner’s knowledge and permission.