The United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit rejected constitutional challenges to a Georgia law restricting the right to carry freely handguns in eight specific locations, including any place of worship. Plaintiffs, who held weapons carry licenses and regularly attended church services, challenged the statute. They claimed that the law violated the free exercise clause of the First Amendment and the right to bear arms established by the Second Amendment.
To properly prove a violation of the First Amendment’s free exercise clause, a plaintiff must demonstrate a constitutionally impermissible burden on a sincerely held religious belief. Plaintiffs stated that they would like to carry handguns in a place of worship for the protection of themselves, their families, their flock and other members of their church. Plaintiffs further claimed that the statute interfered with their free exercise of religion by prohibiting them from engaging in activities in a place of worship when those activities are generally permitted throughout the State.
The Court of Appeals concluded that Plaintiffs’ desire to carry firearms in order to be able to act in “self-defense” is a personal preference, motivated by a secular purpose and, therefore, not subject to protection under the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. The Court of Appeals also rejected the Plaintiffs’ Second Amendment challenge. The Court determined that Plaintiffs’ beliefs did not overcome a private property owner’s right to control exclusively who is allowed on the premises and under what circumstances.
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