26 January 2011

Non-infringement vs. Protection

GeorgiaCarry.org sued the state of Georgia to be able to possess their guns at a church. They were joined by the minister of the church and had the church's permission. That wasn't sufficient, though, because Georgia (apparently) has a law forbidding guns in churches.

The district court ruled for the state:
Defendants’ third objective, protecting the free exercise of religion, is an important governmental interest. The free exercise right is enshrined in the First Amendment to our Constitution. Although the Constitution protects a person’s right to free exercise only against governmental intrusion, it is clear that the protection of religious freedom against private bias or coercion is also an important governmental goal. See, e.g., 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a) (prohibiting discrimination in employment on the basis of religion). Prohibiting the carrying of firearms in a place of worship bears a substantial relationship to that important goal by protecting attendees from the fear or threat of intimidation or armed attack.
I don't even know where to begin. A private entity wants to allow guns on their own property, but the government says, "no". The people's right to keep and bear arms can be infringed because of the possibility of "private bias or coercion"; that is, the government can take action because a crime might be committed, in the absence of any evidence of said crime. None of this even addresses the idea that because the private property is a church, the government is treading dangerously close to first amendment violations, itself. None of this matters to the government, though. It has "governmental goals".

And that's where my real issue lies. The government's "goal" is not to protect free exercise of religion from anyone except itself. In other words, the government's role is not to protect free exercise of religion. It is to not infringe upon it.


  1. I'm not so sure about your final point. If you take as given that one of the roles of government is to protect citizens from other citizens with police forces (a debatable point, but part of our current reality), then there is a point where the government should protect protect free exercise of religion for some citizens against other citizens if their rights to same are being attacked. In other words if someone is actively interfering the the ability of a group of church goes to freely assemble at their church and worship, then under our current system it would be up to the police to put a stop to that rather than have them take up arms against their oppressors themselves.

    I wonder would would happen if a church in Georgia decided to declare that guns are an integral part of their belief system and must be present as part of their church services in order to properly worship them. Maybe install a gun range behind the choir pews. Then see if the state will insist on having no guns in the church because it would stop them from freely practicing their beliefs.

  2. @TPRJones: You went a step too far. The government doesn't have a role to play in protecting free exercise until it has actually been infringed. I suppose I wasn't entirely clear in that last paragraph.

    I'm coming at this case from the perspective that no infringement of free exercise has yet taken place. Given that, the government has no role to play other than to avoid infringement of its own.

    The court has assumed that government's role is to keep infringement from even occurring in the first place (an overreach, in my opinion, especially considering that there is no evidence that infringement is guaranteed to or even would take place) rather than addressing any violations once they have actually occurred.

  3. I should add to my last comment that when the government *does* step in, the crime it would be addressing would not be infringement of free exercise of religion but force/coercion, or the threat thereof, initiated by one private party against another.

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  5. Ayn Rand said it best when she wrote, "When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion - when you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing - when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors - when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don't protect you against them, but protect them against you - when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice - you may know that your society is doomed".


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