God: 1, Guns: 0

Categories: Religion

Today Rochelle Olson wrote an article for the Strib covering a decision by the state Court of Appeals that will allow churches to ban guns on their premises (something, unless I'm mistaken, they could already do). But the article goes on to say:

A three-judge ruling written by Judge David Minge also said the churches aren't required to post signs banning handguns as many other places do. The court also said the churches can ban guns in their parking lots.

The article doesn't get into legal specifics much, other than saying the Court claimed that letting churches out of the requirements didn't constitute a breach of State/Church separation, something I'm in complete agreement with, since it didn't favor any one religion over another.

But I'm interested by legal specifics (they're especially fun if you have no formal training in law, like me) and am a mild 2nd-Amendment supporter, so I thought I'd dig into the 32-page decision.

First, a review: The Minnesota Citizens' Personal Protection Act requires private establishments to provide one of two notifications to peeps coming into their property, if they don't want MCPPA-permitted pistol-carriers to carry inside.

1. A sign, made to a very specific set of legislated requirements and featuring a very specific, legislated message, the gist of which is, "Don't carry your pistol in here." The signs must be at every entrance to the establishment.

or

2. An agent of the establishment needs to personally inform each MCPPA-permitted pistol-carrier entering the building/parking lot, etc. that the establishment bans guns.

Even after these requirements are satisfied, a permit-holder can still carry onto the property without committing a crime. Only after they have been identified as a pistol-carrier and asked to leave the property by an "agent of the establishment," and then refuse to leave the property, can they be charged (at first offense, a $25 fine).

The decision exempts churches from 1 and 2. But they still have to order an offender off their property before a misdemeanor can be applied. But why and how did they get out of 1 and 2? From the decision:

"Minnesota courts employ a heightened "compelling state interest balancing test" when determining whether a challenged law infringes on or interferes with religious practices."

This test is supposed to determine whether a law (in this case, the MCPPA) is interfering with religious practices, because Minnesota's Constitution values freedom of religion at an even higher level than does the US Constitution.

The test involves four "prongs," or questions that must be answered. Three of these are fairly boring and uncontested, so let's skip to the interesting one:

2. Is there an undue burden on the exercise of religion?

The churches argue that there is, because (and I'm paraphrasing here):

1. Having people carry pistols on their property violates their religious principles of peacefulness.
2. Putting up state-sponsored signage or informing each of their visitors of their gun ban violates their religious principles of being welcoming to all.

The contrarian in me wants to point out that if they were really dedicated to being welcoming, they'd welcome folks who pack. And that putting up signage doesn't really make people feel any less welcome. Unless they're carrying a pistol. In which case they're not welcome. See the circle of illogic?

But I guess I can shrug at this one: I really don't have a problem with people not being able to carry their pistols into churches; the MCPPA already specifically bans guns in schools and courthouses. And since the principle at work was one specific to religious practice, it can't snowball into keeping pistol-carriers out of every private business.

Besides, the dedicated conceal-carrier can still pack in a church without breaking the law, as long as you're willing to skedaddle once the pastor spots your ankle holster.


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