July 7, 2014

Churches face a big choice

Many churches are starting to have a conversation their members may never have contemplated. It may be a conversation some of them would rather avoid, but due to a change in state law they won’t be able to.

Under a law that went into effect July 1, those with a license to carry a weapon in Georgia can now carry their firearms into churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship so long as that place of worship allows it.

That last part is crucial.

People will not be allowed and should not be allowed to carry weapons into such places that don’t want them. While many on both sides of the issue see this law as a gun rights measure, it is more properly seen as a property rights law. It recognizes that churches should have the freedom to decide whether to permit guns on their premises.

Previously, state law banned those with private permits from carrying weapons on church grounds even if church members wanted to allow it.

Church members should decide for themselves whether to allow weapons, and at least one local church has decided against allowing them.

The Rev. Beth Royalty, priest-in-charge at St. Mark’s Episcopal, said her church is in compliance, and agreement, with the decision of Bishop Robert Wright, of the Diocese of Atlanta, not to allow firearms except for those carried by on-duty law enforcement.

Royalty said she believes churches “have historically been sanctuaries for people,” and “must remain to be a safe place for everyone.”

We are sure that some other churches may decide that allowing licensed gun owners to carry their weapons will not reduce safety and may in fact enhance it. This is a question of judgment and possibly a judgment of biblical interpretation, and good and reasonable people can reach different views on the answers to such questions.

But allowing congregations and church leaders the opportunity to answer that question for themselves, rather than have it decided by others, is something the state should have allowed long ago.

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