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New York can’t stop churchgoers from bringing guns to worship: appeals court

Roberto Machado Noa/Getty Images
Roberto Machado Noa/Getty Images

An appeals court panel has ruled against a New York law that prohibits the carrying of firearms into houses of worship, upholding a lower court decision that blocked the law from taking effect.

On Friday, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit released a 261-page opinion regarding four cases centered on multiple challenges to New York’s Concealed Carry Improvement Act.

Regarding the Act’s provision banning concealed carry in places of worship, the panel ruled that “Plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that the CCIA burdens their sincerely held religious practice.”

“CCIA is not neutral because it allows the owners of many forms of private property, including many types of retail businesses open to the public, to decide for themselves whether to allow firearms on the premises while denying the same autonomy to places of worship,” stated the ruling.

“By adopting a law that applies differently as to places of worship (alongside the other enumerated sensitive places) than to most other privately owned businesses and properties, the CCIA is, on its face, neither neutral nor generally applicable.”

The panel opinion went on to say that “the State has not demonstrated that allowing church leaders to regulate their congregants’ firearms is more dangerous than allowing other property owners to do the same.”

“It 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 appeals court added.

In July of last year, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the Concealed Carry Improvement Act into law, which, among other things, required people seeking a concealed carry license to be of “good moral character” and made it a crime to conceal carry in “sensitive locations,” such as church sanctuaries.

Hochul said in a press release at the time that she was “taking swift and bold action to protect New Yorkers” and was “proud to sign this landmark legislative package that will strengthen our gun laws and bolster restrictions on concealed carry weapons.”

New York Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins was quoted in the press release as saying, “we are stepping up to protect New York from being easily flooded with concealed weapons and keeping firearms out of the wrong hands.”

“These measures, in addition to the previous anti-gun violence legislation we passed, are vital in a time when there are more guns than people in America,” stated Stewart-Cousins.

The main campus of His Tabernacle Family Church in Horseheads, New York.
The main campus of His Tabernacle Family Church in Horseheads, New York. | Screenshot: Google Maps

His Tabernacle Family Church and Pastor Micheal Spencer filed suit against New York over the law back in November 2022, being represented by the law firm the First Liberty Institute.

In late December last year, Judge John L. Sinatra Jr. of the Western District of New York, a Trump appointee, ruled against the state, concluding that the Act violated the U.S. Constitution.

“Plaintiffs have demonstrated that the State permits countless other private actors hosting secular activities to do what a house of worship may not. The houses of worship exclusion is not a neutral law of general applicability,” he wrote.   

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