Another religious liberty issue?

Another religious liberty issue? December 17, 2012

I had not thought about this much until I read this blog post on the craziest gun laws in the United States. Consider this:

Property rights end where gun rights begin: According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 17 states, including Oklahoma and Florida, bar employers from preventing their employees from bringing guns to work and keeping them locked in their vehicles, even if those vehicles are on the property of the employer. Indiana and North Dakota allow employees to sue their employers for damages if asked about gun possession. The North Dakota statue specifically bars employers from asking if employees’ vehicles parked on company property have weapons in them. Georgia bars employers from making employment conditional on not bringing guns to work.”

My question is this – do these laws have exemptions for employees of religious bodies? And if so, are these exemptions narrowly defined to places of worship or are they broad-based – encompassing schools, hospitals, and charitable institutions, for example? I think you can see why I am asking this question. This was really the crux of the issue with the contraception mandate – not the contraceptives per se, but the right of the Church as a vital mediating institution to be allowed the appropriate degree of autonomy in its legitimate sphere of influence. And a Catholic employer certainly has the right to demand a work environment that is free of weapons.

Can the lawyers help me out here?

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  • I looked at the Georgia law and did not see a religious based exemption. I don’t know about the other states, but it’s plausible most (if not all) do not contain such an exemption.

    If a religious organization had an objection to the law, they could try to mount a legal challenge, as many such organizations are currently challenging the contraceptive mandate. But I foresee a difficulty. The challenge to the contraceptive mandate is chiefly based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). But RFRA only applies to the federal government; it does not apply to the states. And a direct challenge under the First Amendment would be unlikely to succeed per Employment Division v. Smith. If the state in question had its own version of RFRA (or had a state constitutional protection of religion more expansive than the First Amendment), then perhaps a challenge could succeed. To my knowledge, though, no religious organization has brought such a challenge.

    • dominic1955

      Aside from the legal issues, I think this is considerably different from the contraception issue. The Church has no teaching ‘against’ CCW so it would be an institution to institution thing. My pastor, for instance, has no problem with CCW on church grounds as long as its lawful.

      Also, whether the institution wants it or not, the only people effected by such an exemption would be CCW holders or the odd hunter or target shooter that happened to have left his gun in the car that would bother to care about the law because they wouldn’t want to possibly get in trouble. Chances are, however, that there would never been a problem beause no one but the holder would even know they had a gun on their person or in their car. If someone wanted to light up the place, a little circle-cross out sign over a pistol isn’t going to stop him.

      • Kurt

        The Church has no teaching ‘against’ CCW so …

        The Church has no teaching as to how a parish’s temporal goods are to be legally held. Yet when one legislator in one state proposed that the method the Church insists upon in Quebec be applied to his state, a crusade for religious liberty was launched by the bishop against him.

  • Agellius

    “And a Catholic employer certainly has the right to demand a work environment that is free of weapons.”

    An employee’s car is not the workplace. I doubt a Catholic employer could require his employees to refrain from having contraception in their cars either, though they might well require them not to use contraception in the office. ; )

    • Kurt

      The boss’s parking lot is considered the workplace.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    I want to make clear that I am not a gun enthusiast in any way. But I would like to remind those here who imagine that somehow the ethos of the RC Church might be unenthusiastic about guns, should just look to art history for a wake-up. For one of my favorite aspects of art in the New World, better known as Spanish Colonial Art, was the utterly new art trope in the new world guided by the polity of the “most Catholic” kings of Spain. Namely, the literall armed angel. Or in art history parlance, “The Harquebusier Angel”. Many, many Harquebusier angels were produced all over, but particularly in the artistic orbit of the Viceroyalty centered in Lima. I love them. What I would give to own an original!! (Art history archaelogy has shown that they were originally produced by artists in the New World who were influenced by a famous series of engravings called the Esserci of Arms. Since they were in the new world and did not have access to the examples of the Old World in portrayals of angels, perhaps they we can speculate they just said to themselves “Why not give the angel a gun, like the figure in the Esserci I am looking at.” Church Militant indeed!

    Btw, apropros Angels, we recently made a stopover in Munich on a trip abroad, on our way somewhere. I seized the opportunity to see one of the works I have really wanted to see. The wonderful “Schutz-Engel” of the baroque-rococo sculptor Ignaz Gunther, in the BurgerSaal Kirche. It was incredible. I think it is the highest achievement in the rococo visual arts, period. And in reference to the Harquebusier Angels, could not be more different. though I love both. Since Angels are often thought of in terms of personal protection, it show that in the RC tradition there is a broad — and we can say sublime!– continuum on which to conceive of “personal protection”.

  • ctd

    I am the executive director of the North Dakota Catholic Conference. We sought and did not receive exemptions for religious bodies and providers of social services.

    As to legal protection without the exemption: it probably does not exist unless the state has a state RFRA or something similar, which North Dakota does not have.

    Agellius: It is not just employee’s cars that are at issue. These laws allow guns in anyone’s car on the parking lot. This is not an employee’s rights issue.

    Perhaps the Catholic church would have no religious objection to a gun on its property (even if in another’s car, it is on the church’s property), but other religious bodies might, such as traditional “peace” churches.

    Moreover, as a property owner, churches should be able to enact policies that it believes are consistent with securing safety on that property so long as it does not interfere with another fundamental legal right. (And there is no fundamental legal right to bring a firearm onto another’s property.)

    For those interested the North Dakota Catholic Conference’s testimony on the bill is here:

    • Agellius


      I don’t claim to be well versed on issues of gun rights and laws. So, I’m just shooting from the hip here:

      The contention of the other side is that there is a right to bear arms. This, they assert, is a fundamental, constitutional right. If an employee is forbidden to have a gun in his car, that prevents him from bearing arms to and from work, and any place he might need to go on the way to and from work.

      A right to bear arms on one’s person is severely restricted if any owner of private property can forbid their presence on his property. What good is a concealed carry permit, if you’re only allowed to carry your gun in your own home or on public land?

      The idea of “enacting a policy” to “secure safety” seems silly to me. Do you suppose the Newtown school had no policy against bringing guns onto school property and shooting children?

      • Julia Smucker

        To me the question is, how far must “a right to bear arms on one’s person” extend – or rather, how sacrosanct is it? How much risk of the endangerment of innocent lives is such a “right” worth?

        • But Julia, if someone is going to follow “policies” forbidding them to carry arms, then they will also follow policies forbidding murdering schoolchildren. On the other hand, those who don’t follow the legal and moral prohibition against murder, won’t give a fig for a policy prohibiting carrying firearms. Do you see my point?

          To me, your position only makes sense if your goal is to stamp out all private ownership of firearms, period. In that case, the individual predilection to obey the law, or not, won’t matter, because everyone’s guns will be taken away regardless.

          But if you allow guns, then you’re ipso facto accepting the risk that some people will use them in bad ways. In which case, it’s silly to tell people “no guns in parking lots”, if you can’t even trust them to obey the law that says “no shooting at innocent people”.

        • dominic1955

          The risk to innocent lives comes from those who do not give a hoot about any “law”. The “gun free zone” idea is an opiate to ease the minds of the gullible. Like I said above, if someone wants to cause trouble they will. Better be armed and be able to respond than waiting for help from outside. Of course, by and large, nothing happens. I can load up whatever weapon I want and leave it sit in my car. Guess what would happen? Big fat nothing. Millions of Americans have CCW and there has been no rivers of blood in the streets.

          This is a non-issue.

        • Julia Smucker

          Right, the “legal restrictions are useless because criminals don’t obey laws” argument. The main problem with this is that it presupposes an ontological definition of a criminal – as if all criminals were so by nature. But human beings who make horrific choices are still human beings, not automatons. Lanza was not a criminal until he used his legally owned weapons for criminal purposes. How do we prevent a previously “decent law-abiding citizen” (again not a permanent ontological category) from deciding to do the same? I would hope that after Friday, we could all see that it being that easy to legally possess such an arsenal does far, far more harm than good.

        • dominic1955

          A “criminal” is a legal fiction of sorts. One is a “criminal” if they break a law. One can be a criminal and be a moral person, i.e. they break an unjust law. So, to be clearer, one who has decided they are going to shoot some place up (they are not criminals yet, as they haven’t broken a law and haven’t been charged with it either) are going to do so whether there is a law against having guns in your car or not at a certain place. The “criminal by nature” thing you are bringing up in a red herring.

          How do we prevent people from deciding to go on a rampage? Well, passing more asinine laws won’t do the trick. Punishing millions for the actions of a small number is also ridiculous.

          Just what is an “arsenal” to you? Automatics are already illegal, save for the already registered ones. We’ve had however many “assault weapons” bans that do all of jack written up by people who probably do not even know which end the bullet comes out of and now the Chicoms have the gaul to say we need more “gun control”.

      • Paul DuBois

        So are you saying if someone has a CCW, I can not legally stop them from bringing a gun into my house because that would limit their right to bear arms?

        • dominic1955

          I’m saying, fat chance of knowing about it and thus-non issue. Personally, if I knew someone who was so anal about this, I would leave my gun in my car if I went to their house. If even that was a problem, I probably just wouldn’t go to their place as that kind of person would probably not be the kind (shrill and irrational) I’d care to be friends with. Problem solved both ways without recourse to cops or the gov’t.

          Now, as the owner of your property, you have control over who and what you want on your premises. If you make it known that the people you invite over are not welcome to bring their handgun if they have a CCW then that is your perogative and I would think that if they made it clear they had one and came into your house uninvited you could call the cops and have them escorted off of your property as a trespasser.

        • Agellius


          I never said what people can and can’t do with a CCW. As I said, I claim no expertise on the subject. I was just saying what makes sense to me. To answer your question, I would say no, because a private home is different from a public place or a workplace. You could even insist, for example, that no one wear clothes in your house if you wanted to.

      • Paul DuBois

        This is hardly a non-issue. Most of the killings in this country are not caused by someone who intends to murder random people in the street. They are committed by people who have a gun with them to scare someone and the person is not adequately scared so they shoot. They are used by people who are killing a person they know and want dead. And a very large number are accidental shoots where no harm was intended.

        The non-issue is that we are upset and considering changing our laws because 28 (including the shooter) people die because of one persons mental illness and we debate gun control and mental illness. We are numb (or non-caring) when 65 people a year are killed in my town because of the continued gun violence. The use of gun control or mitigation is not even discussed.

        • dominic1955

          Like Aegellius said above, you can legally limit anyone from coming to your house. Its not a 2nd Amendment issue, then it becomes a private property issue.

          As you your statement, again, how praytell is some sort of law going to stop that? If someone wants to shoot you, a law saying they cannot carry to your house isn’t going to prevent that. However, folks who bother to get CCWs aren’t going to be waving their gun around to “scare” people. Folks who get CCWs are a pretty upstanding crowd, not some shady gangbanger that would flash his chrome plated POS to look hard. As to accidents, that is patently false, I’ll post some info when I’m at a computer that will let me.

          Those 65 people a year are not killed by “gun violence”, they were killed by people. Furthermore, do you mean crimes or suicides or all total?

          Do an experiment sometime, find someone that has one of them really scary guns like an AK or an AR, all tricked out with a folding stock, bayonet, 30 round mags (or 75 round drums!). Have them load it and then sit there. You let me know what kind of murderous rampage it goes on.

      • ctd

        The constitutional right to bear arms only means that the government cannot infringe on that right. In this case, we are talking about a private property owner limiting what a visitor on that property can do on that property. There is not government involvement.

        Please note also that the North Dakota Catholic Conference never argued that prohibiting guns on properties is a good or bad idea. We just argued that churches should be exempt for religious reasons and that providers of social services should be able to – and in fact must – be able to implement their own safety policies. The Joint Commission on hospital accreditation, for example, requires psychiatric hospitals (at least) to have all visitors check their guns when on the property. There presumably is a reason for that and these laws basically tell hospitals, domestic violence shelters, etc. that the state knows better than they as to how to keep their clients/patients safe.

        • Agellius


          I was not arguing that people have a constitutional right to bear arms in the workplace. I was suggesting some reasons a state might have for making such a law, that in effect, people’s ability to actually bear arms would be greatly reduced, and having a CCW made largely pointless, if they had to leave their guns at home five days a week while going to and from work.

          If employers feel that their own constitutional rights are violated because of being unable to forbid guns in parking lots, then I would assume they are either working that out in the courts, or the courts have already decided it.

  • Blackadder

    The Bill of Rights only apply against the government, not against private individuals or organizations, so there is no Second Amendment problem with an employer not allowing guns on his property.

    My view would be that employers should have the right to exclude guns if they so choose (though I personally don’t see what the big deal is about letting people keep guns locked away in their cars).

  • Agellius

    Dominic writes, “The risk to innocent lives comes from those who do not give a hoot about any “law”. The “gun free zone” idea is an opiate to ease the minds of the gullible.”

    As Chesterton wrote in one of the Father Brown stories: It’s easy to kill someone, anyone, even the Prime Minister. The only thing that makes it hard is the desire to avoid being convicted of murder. When people don’t care about that (because, for example, they are planning to kill themselves anyway), no policy or law is going to stop them.

  • Agellius


    You write, ‘Right, the “legal restrictions are useless because criminals don’t obey laws” argument.’

    Assuming you’re responding to me, you’re going beyond what I argued. I was responding to CDT’s argument that employers should be allowed to forbid employees from having guns in their cars at the workplace. That’s what I found silly.

    Whether a criminal is an ontological entity is not the point. What I argued is that someone who is actually, currently intent on murder — not by nature but as an act of free will — is not going to care about violating a policy on guns in parking lots. When you’re that far gone with hatred of humanity in general or someone in particular, you tend not to give a damn about employment rules or parking policies. Particularly if you intend to kill yourself afterwards, since in that case the consequences of your actions tend to fade from view.

    Whether certain types of weapons or sizes of clips should be legal is another discussion.

    • Julia Smucker

      Agellius, sorry for the confusion – I was responding to you and Dominic simultaneously, and trying to argue that it should not have been so easy for Adam Lanza to legally acquire the weapons he used in the first place. We need regulation because criminal intent cannot always be predicted.