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Do Churches Need Armed Pastors? What the Recent Lawsuits are Saying

January 17th, 2023

Some concerned churchgoers believe that armed pastors are necessary to defend churches against shooters in this age of mass shootings.

Some say that an armed society is a polite society. Others say that the only people who should have guns are the police. These divisions are equally pronounced in the religious community, as some believe that armed pastors are necessary in this day and age in order to defend churches against shooters. But what kind of legal barriers are churches facing as they try to arm themselves, and how might this affect the way we worship in the United States?

New York’s Ban on Armed Pastors Shot Down in Court

The most recent development in the story of guns and churches came on January 2, 2023, when it was reported that a federal court had struck down New York’s ban on firearms in houses of worship. This came after a pastor sued the New York government for instating the ban, claiming that it violated the Second Amendment. A federal judge agreed, stating:

“Plaintiffs have demonstrated that the State permits countless other private actors hosting secular activities to do what a house of worship may not. The houses of worship exclusion is not a neutral law of general applicability.” 

The main argument here is that you must treat everyone the same. Selectively de-arming churches goes against core values of the United States. As the judge pointed out, private actors are exempt from this ban while performing many of the same basic duties as churches – including community gatherings and events. 

The pastor who filed this lawsuit also pointed out that if someone wants to walk into a church and start shooting people, a law that forbids guns in places of worship is not going to stop them, but armed pastors might make them think twice. 

Security Is a Legitimate Concern for Many Churches

With a number of church shootings over the years and with mass shootings becoming a regular occurrence in the United States, many churchgoers are concerned for their safety. Many of these concerned churchgoers believe that the obvious solution is to arm themselves when they attend church functions. Some use armed volunteers to secure church perimeters, while others hire private security. Although armed pastors are out there, most churches utilize volunteers or security. At the same time, many states are loosening restrictions on guns in places of worship, allowing more firearms to make their way into churches. 

But not all religious individuals are united in this movement. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the United Methodist Church have stated that guns are not welcome in houses of worship. In addition, multiple Catholic leaders have condemned the presence of guns in their churches. These are valid arguments, as guns pose an inherent safety risk – especially when in the hands of those without professional training. 

Many pastors believe that guns are necessary in houses of worship – but they should always be kept as a last resort. Regardless of these varying opinions, the federal court’s stance seems to be clear – at least in the case of New York: Gun bans in churches are unenforceable. 

The Goal of the Universal Life Church’s Blog

While many religious rights have existed unchanged in the United States for hundreds of years, each year countless cases test the boundary of these rights. The Universal Life Church’s blog focuses on documenting these cases in a way that can be easily understood by readers and which objectively examines both sides of an argument.

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