Pastor defeats law that left churches unguarded but state keeps right to define 'moral character'

Pastor defeats law that left churches unguarded but state keeps right to define 'moral character'

Gov. Kathy Hochul

Pastor defeats law that left churches unguarded but state keeps right to define 'moral character'

A religious liberty law firm, hired by a church congregation to fight New York’s authoritarian concealed carry gun law, has learned a federal appeals court struck down a portion of the law that discriminated against houses of worship.

After winning a preliminary injunction in late November, First Liberty Institute learned December 8 a federal appeals court had struck down the “sensitive places” portion in the state law that banned firearms – even by a permit holder – in a house of worship.

“The court made it clear that the U.S. Constitution grants the right of self-defense for all Americans and houses of worship cannot be disarmed,” Jeremy Dys, senior counsel at First Liberty, said in a statement.

The lawsuit was filed by His Tabernacle Family Church, a nondenominational church with campuses in Horseheads, Ithaca, and Mansfield. The church pastor, Micheal Spencer, has a permit to carry a firearm but was not permitted to do so in his own church building after Democrat Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a concealed carry bill into law last year.

Pastor Micheal Spencer Spencer

Violating the state law is a Class E felony that could have put the pastor in prison for up to four years.

Ryan Gardner, a second First Liberty attorney, tells AFN the Second Circuit ruling affirmed the State of New York cannot single out and “disarm” churches while allowing firearms in public, such as shopping malls.

Gun owners in blue-state New York celebrated last year when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 on behalf of a gun club that had sued to stop a concealed carry law that required New Yorkers to cite a specific and ongoing threat to their safety.  

In the ruling, Justice Clarence Thomas stated in his majority opinion the Second Amendment protects "an individual's right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home."

Undeterred by that landmark ruling, Democrats in the state legislature passed the Concealed Carry Improvement Act just one week later. The new law introduced a long list of controversial requirements, such as applicants providing their social media history, and it banned permit holders from carrying in numerous places, including in churches. 

The law also requires a permit applicant provide four references that show “good, moral character,” however that term is defined according the State of New York.

After the Second Circuit ruling last week, legal news website Courthouse News Service reported the appeals court struck down the social media requirement but also upheld the “good, moral character” requirement even after acknowledging it can be used to punish personal and political beliefs.

“A licensing decision that uses ‘good moral character’ as a smokescreen to deny licenses for impermissible reasons untethered to dangerousness, such as the applicant’s lifestyle or political preferences, would violate the Constitution by relying on a ground for disarmament for which there is no historical basis,” the judges wrote in their opinion.

Despite those legal setbacks, Democrats are still declaring victory because the appeals court had failed to strike down other portions of the controversial law.  

“Now, even after a year of legal assault from right-wing extremists, core tenets of our laws remain in effect following today’s ruling from the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit,” Gov. Hochul said in a celebratory statement.