A federal appeals court in Atlanta has rejected a pastor's claim that a Georgia law prohibiting certain weapons in public places, including churches, is in violation of the constitutional rights to bear arms and to practice one's religion freely.
"We conclude that the Second Amendment does not give an individual a right to carry a firearm on a place of worship's premises against the owner's wishes because such right did not pre-exist the Amendment's adoption," the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal wrote July 20 in its decision. "Enforcing the Carry Law against a license holder who carries a firearm on private property against the owner's instructions would therefore be constitutional."
The court added in its decision that the complaint failed to prove how Georgia's Carry Law burdens a sincerely held religious belief.
The lawsuit, rejected in 2010 by a lower court, was originally filed by the Rev. Jonathan Wilkins, pastor of Baptist Tabernacle of Thomaston, and gun lobby organization GeorgiaCarry.org.
Wilkins said in the lawsuit that he wanted to carry a gun for protection while working in the church. The appeal was amended to include that Baptist Tabernacle officials wanted to be "armed for the protection of its members attending worship services" without fear of arrest or prosecution.
The Rev. Wilkins and GeorgiaCarry.org were represented by attorney John Monroe, who said his clients were not yet sure if they would appeal the appeals court's decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"We're looking at it," he told The Associated Press. "We respect the court's decision, but we were disappointed."
Wilkins and GeorgiaCarry.org's lawsuit was filed to challenge Georgia's 2010 revision to its gun laws that addressed where gun owners can carry their weapons. The amendment specifically names eight places where it is prohibited with certain exceptions for people to carry a weapon or long gun: in a government building; a courthouse; a jail or prison; a place of worship; a state mental health facility; a bar: a nuclear power facility; or within 150 feet of a polling place.
GeorgiaCarry.org argues on its website: "The Second Amendment to the Bill of Rights doesn't just apply in certain locations or to special people favored by the government. The right of the people to keep and bear arms applies everywhere and to all of us without qualification. 'Shall not be infringed' means SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED."
Republican lawmakers introduced an amendment earlier this year to Georgia's gun laws, with the primary proposed change being to allow those with permits for concealed weapons to carry guns on public property, including churches. House Bill 981, as it is called, was still making its way through the State Legislature.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal's decision came the same day that a gunman opened fire on a packed movie theater in Aurora, Colo., killing at least 12 people and injuring nearly six dozen others. The incident has sparked renewed debates about U.S. gun control laws, with some Christians calling for stiffer regulations.