Church people fighting new gun law
Edina Community Lutheran filed a lawsuit which other churches joined
According to some Twin Cities church leaders, the legislators in the Minnesota House and Senate didn’t read the new “conceal and carry” gun law very carefully before rushing to approve it at the end of the recent regular legislative session. Neither, evidently, did Governor Tim Pawlenty, who signed it without hesitation.
During a special follow-up legislative session, steps were taken to soften the original law, exempting faith communities from some requirements.
Had lawmakers taken time to look carefully at what the law did and did not allow, they would have realized that they were about to make a lot of church members hopping mad. Key among provisions that fueled the fire angering religious groups was one that required churches who didn’t want guns in their sanctuaries to post signs, using state-mandated parameters, saying so. The original version of the law also required ushers or greeters to inform worshipers, as they arrived, that they could not bring guns inside with them.
Edina Community Lutheran Church (ECLC) sued the State of Minnesota on May 20. Their lawsuit sought to declare portions of the new law unconstitutional. ECLC was quickly joined by around 40 other faith communities, including four Jewish synagogues.
David Gross, one of the two principal proponents of the law, is a Jewish layperson who admitted he takes a gun with him to synagogue. But his rabbi said Gross does not speak for him, and that the congregation does not favor the law.
Gross told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he had been harassed by individuals who had, among other things, threatened his life with anonymous phone calls. He said he wants the new law because “the right to protect yourself should not end at a person’s front door.”
Members of ECLC believe the new law infringes on the Minnesota Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom. The brief filed for the congregation cites the parish’s “sincere and well-established commitment to peacemaking and non-violence.” Edina Community Lutheran has prohibited firearms on all its property, including the church building, the parking lot, a child care center and a playground.
The congregation’s leaders said they would erect a sign reading, “Blessed are the peacemakers. Firearms are prohibited in this place of sanctuary.” By taking this step, members decided not to comply with the new state law, which requires all “private establishments,” including churches, to allow firearms in parking lots.
The congregation also declined to comply with the new law’s notification requirements.
Members of ECLC believe these requirements infringe on the church’s right to religious communication and will hinder the congregation’s traditional welcome to worship.
Both the church council and those polled at worship at ECLC were unanimous in support of the lawsuit, which was drawn by U.S. Attorney David Lillehaug, a member of the congregation.
On June 6 District Court Judge Marilyn Brown Rosenbaum ruled churches may prohibit guns in their worship centers without following what she called the “onerous” signage and personal notification provisions of the new law.
Support for the suit includes several denominations, including Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian, United Methodist, Episcopal, Jewish, and a Buddhist center.