‘New York Must Stop Disarming Its Religious Citizens’ Under New Court Order

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A federal court has blocked New York from enforcing a ban on the concealed carrying of firearms at houses of worship, ruling Thursday that the state law likely discriminated against religious New Yorkers and may have violated the First Amendment.

The state’s Democratic governor, Kathy Hochul, signed the legislation (S.51001/A.41001) in July, restricting concealed carry in “sensitive locations,” including houses of worship. Hochul signed the bill days after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a New York restriction on concealed carry licenses.

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York issued a preliminary injunction Dec. 28, ruling that a nondenominational Christian church likely would succeed in proving its case that the state discriminated against religious New Yorkers.

Judge John Sinatra, an appointee of President Donald Trump, wrote in the ruling that the ban doesn’t apply to “other private property owners—such as proprietors of hair salons, retail stores, shopping malls, gas stations, office buildings, and countless other private actors hosting secular activities.”

“By disarming places of worship but allowing secular businesses to make their own decisions about firearm carry, New York has targeted religious groups and made them uniquely defenseless,” Jordan Pratt, senior counsel at First Liberty Institute, one of the law firms representing His Tabernacle Family Church in Horseheads, New York, told The Daily Signal in a written statement Tuesday.

“Worse still, the state’s ban conditions the constitutional right to gather for worship on the relinquishment of another constitutional right—the right to bear arms,” Pratt added. “This defiant assault on First and Second Amendment freedoms ignores New York’s recent losses before the Supreme Court.  We’re pleased that the district court agreed with our position and vindicated our clients’ sincere religious belief that they have a duty to protect the flock.”

Pastor Michael Spencer, the church’s founder, testified that he believes he has “a moral and religious duty to take reasonable measures to protect the safety of those who enter the Church,” according to the appeals court’s order.

The Bible often refers to religious leaders as ‘shepherds’ and tasks them with caring for and protecting their ‘flocks,’” Spencer said. He described “providing for the physical safety of the church” as his “religious act and duty as a pastor,” and he said his church shares these beliefs.

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Hochuls office didn’t respond to The Daily Signal’s request for comment for this report. Her statement in signing the law referenced by the Supreme Court’s June decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, in which the high court struck down New York’s requirement that citizens must prove “proper cause” to obtain a concealed carry license.

“A week ago, the Supreme Court issued a reckless decision removing century-old limitations on who is allowed to carry concealed weapons in our state—senselessly sending us backward and putting the safety of our residents in jeopardy,” Hochul said. “Today, we are taking swift and bold action to protect New Yorkers.”

Although the governor claimed that her legal experts agreed that the law did not run afoul of the Supreme Court’s ruling, First Liberty Institute Counsel Ryan Gardner said she had ignored “New York’s recent losses before the Supreme Court.”

Gardner cited the Rifle & Pistol Association case, along with the Supreme Court’s 2020 ruling in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo, in which the justices blocked New York’s COVID-19 restrictions applied specifically against religious groups.

Hochul acted to “defy both of those rulings,” First Liberty Institute argued.

In addition to targeting religious groups and depriving them of their First Amendment rights, Gardner said, “the state’s ban conditions the constitutional right to gather for worship on the relinquishment of another constitutional right—the right to bear arms.”

“We’re pleased that the district court agreed with our position and vindicated our clients’ sincere religious belief that they have a duty to protect the flock,” he concluded.

“We’re pleased the court recognized that no American should be forced to sacrifice one constitutionally protected freedom to enjoy another,” Erin Murphy, partner at Clement & Murphy, another law firm that represented Spencer, said in a written statement. “Houses of worship have a constitutionally protected freedom to decide for themselves whether to allow legally possessed firearms into their facilities.”

Have an opinion about this article? To sound off, please email letters@DailySignal.com and we’ll consider publishing your edited remarks in our regular “We Hear You” feature. Remember to include the url or headline of the article plus your name and town and/or state.

The post ‘New York Must Stop Disarming Its Religious Citizens’ Under New Court Order appeared first on The Daily Signal.

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