A pastor is suing New York State over a law prohibiting firearms at houses of worship, warning the government’s provisions put his church at risk and hamper Second Amendment rights.
Micheal Spencer, pastor of His Tabernacle Family Church, a Christian church in Horseheads, New York, argues the law unconstitutionally restricts churches’ Second Amendment rights while still allowing businesses to decide for themselves whether a firearm is permitted on their property.
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Spencer is hoping to see a court overturn these gun regulations, citing the impact on his church’s security ministry, which can no longer carry weapons to protect the property.
Past threats and concerns have left the preacher and his church feeling vulnerable.
“One of the challenges that we have is that we’re on television now,” Spencer said, noting the large size of his church. “When somebody has — whether it be a psychological issue or a God-hating issue — we’re probably the first ones [they go after].”
The preacher said he and his late wife not long ago received a message from someone who threatened to shoot them in the head. Other similar incidents have unfolded over the years.
But Spencer said his biggest concern is the parishioners — and especially the children — who worship at the church.
“We have a hundred to 160 children every single week at this church,” he said. “And you know, why in the world would we want to compromise the opportunity and ability … to protect the body of Christ against [threats], whether they be lunatic, whether they be demon-possessed, whether they just be individuals that are God-haters?”
Spencer said he believes he and his church have the “privilege and the right” to protect themselves. And he said his church security team has always been well-trained and prepared for their duties.
“I don’t like the fact that we have to, but the fact is, in today’s world, we have to,” he said of securing the property. “And it’s proven multiple times a year in America.”
Spencer’s attorney, Jordan Pratt, senior counsel at First Liberty Institute, said some elements of the New York law make it “legally problematic,” highlighting the targeting of houses of worship. While churches and other religious arenas have these restrictions, he said secular businesses are permitted to make firearm decisions for themselves.
Pratt gave a hypothetical situation where His Tabernacle Family Church disavowed its faith, kept the same leadership, and became a feel-good, for-profit coffee hour. In such a strange scenario, the sudden for-profit — with the same location and leaders — would be permitted to have firearms on its premises.
“It’s not just that we have a Second Amendment problem,” Pratt said. “What we have is a forced choice between First and Second Amendment rights.”
He continued, “If you wish to exercise your Second Amendment rights, then you cannot engage in worship, and that is deeply offensive.”
The attorney cited U.S. Supreme Court cases like Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, New York v. Cuomo, which dealt with occupancy limits during COVID-19, and New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, which struck down previous New York gun restrictions, to note the high court has already made it clear New York has too vociferously violated residents’ rights.
It should also be noted a New York judge, in recent weeks, delivered a temporary hold and then a preliminary injunction against the law until a final ruling on the matter; the New York law makes it a felony for a person with a concealed-carry license to have a gun at “any place of worship or religious observation,” according to CNN.
Pratt also noted how many church assaults and attacks have been at the hands of someone outside of the house of worship who has come in and open-fired. This creates further questions about why the church itself cannot ensure more intensive protection.
“This isn’t even a sensible mode of legislating, let alone one that passes constitutional muster,” he said. “If New York is concerned, as it should be, about the safety and security of its religious houses of worship, I think what it should be doing is giving ministers the exact same right.”
Spencer echoed this sentiment, saying he’s “flabbergasted” over the government’s attempts to “overpower our First Amendment to demand the church obey the government.”
“That is where we are taking a stance, because … they should not have the right to dictate to the church what we cannot do inside of our building,” he said. “I’m amazed at their boldness to stand forth and to put regulations against the church.”
Spencer said he’s hoping this lawsuit successfully helps overturn the law and allows churches like his own to protect parishioners, including young children.
“The governor has never visited this church. She has no clue who we are, what we do, or how we do,” he said of Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul. “Yet the imposition was extreme.”
The preacher added, “It is quite confusing to me … how the government is trying to slowly erode our rights as American citizens.”
Watch the full discussion here.
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