Micheal Spencer is the lead and founding pastor of His Tabernacle Family Church, a nondenominational church with campuses in Horseheads and Ithaca, New York.  He believes that, “as the church pastor, he has a moral and religious duty to take reasonable measures to protect the safety of his congregation.”

Pastor Spencer is licensed under New York law to carry a concealed firearm, and he regularly carries his firearm on church campuses.  In recent years, the church has received “suspicious and threatening mail, and at least two death threats that prompted the involvement of law enforcement.”  In addition, the church’s campuses have been burglarized and vandalized.

But since the state of New York enacted a new law prohibiting firearms on church property, Pastor Spencer cannot protect his congregation from potential threats.

In late 2020, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo, chiding New York for singling out religious groups and restricting how they worship in violation of the First Amendment.  And in June 2022, the Court issued its opinion in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen (“NYSRPA”), invalidating New York’s unprecedented effort to suppress the Second Amendment right to carry a firearm outside the home.  Rather than heed these losses before the Supreme Court, New York doubled down and doubled up, opting to infringe both constitutional rights at the same time.  Just days after its loss in NYSRPA, New York defied both of those rulings by establishing a total ban on carrying firearms in houses of worship, putting its religious residents to an impossible choice: either forfeit your First Amendment right to gather for worship, or forfeit your Second Amendment right to armed self-defense.

New York now imposes criminal liability on any person who carries a firearm into a place of worship regardless of whether that person possesses a license to carry a firearm under New York law, and regardless of whether the religious community would prefer to authorize congregants to carry a firearm.  This total-disarmament approach sharply contrasts with the more calibrated treatment that New York affords to most secular businesses: firearm carry permitted with the business owner’s authorization.  Thus, New York has targeted religious groups for disarmament and left them uniquely vulnerable to violence.

In November 2022, First Liberty Institute and the law firms Clement & Murphy PLLC and Ganguly Brothers PLLC filed a federal lawsuit challenging the law on behalf of His Tabernacle Family Church.   A month later, the United States District Court for the Western District of New York issued a preliminary injunction against the state of New York, stopping the state’s prohibition on firearms at houses of worship, and allowing religious bodies to protect themselves as they gather for their services.

In his order, Judge John Sinatra said, “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.”

Erin Murphy, Partner at Clement & Murphy said, “We’re pleased the court recognized that no American should be forced to sacrifice one constitutionally protected freedom to enjoy another.  Houses of worship have a constitutionally protected freedom to decide for themselves whether to allow legally possessed firearms into their facilities.”

“Singling out houses of worship for total disarmament demonstrates hostility toward religion, leaves them defenseless to rebuff violent attacks, and defies at least two recent Supreme Court rulings against New York.  Religious leaders are no less qualified than secular business owners to determine whether to allow carrying a firearm for self-defense, and New York should end its defiant assault on First and Second Amendment freedoms,” added Jordan Pratt, Senior Counsel at First Liberty Institute.

 

News Release
For Immediate Release: 12.29.22
Contact: Peyton Luke, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 972-941-4453

Breaking: Federal Court Blocks New York State Ban on Firearms in Houses of Worship
Lawsuit challenged law adopted by NY legislature just days after Supreme Court struck down numerous state restrictions on firearms

Buffalo, NY— The United States District Court for the Western District of New York today issued a preliminary injunction against the state of New York, stopping the state’s prohibition on firearms at houses of worship.  A lawsuit challenging the law was filed by First Liberty Institute and the law firms Clement & Murphy PLLC and Ganguly Brothers PLLC on behalf of His Tabernacle Family Church, a nondenominational Christian church in Horseheads, New York, founded by Pastor Micheal Spencer.

You can read the order here.

Erin Murphy, Partner at Clement & Murphy said, “We’re pleased the court recognized that no American should be forced to sacrifice one constitutionally protected freedom to enjoy another.  Houses of worship have a constitutionally protected freedom to decide for themselves whether to allow legally possessed firearms into their facilities.”

“Singling out houses of worship for total disarmament demonstrates hostility toward religion, leaves them defenseless to rebuff violent attacks, sticks the state’s nose into how religious services are conducted, and defies at least two recent Supreme Court rulings against New York.  Thanks to the court’s action, New York must stop disarming its religious citizens and may no longer leave houses of worship vulnerable to violence,” added Ryan Gardner, Counsel at First Liberty Institute.

In his order, Judge John Sinatra said, “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.”

In late 2020, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo, chiding New York for singling out religious groups and restricting how they worship in violation of the First Amendment.  And in June 2022, the Court issued its opinion in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, invalidating New York’s unprecedented effort to suppress the Second Amendment right to carry a firearm outside the home.  Just days later, New York enacted expansive new laws that defy both of those rulings by establishing a total ban on carrying firearms in houses of worship.  New York now imposes criminal liability on any person who carries a firearm into a place of worship regardless of whether that person possesses a license to carry a firearm under New York law, and regardless of whether the religious community would prefer to authorize congregants to carry a firearm.

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About First Liberty Institute

First Liberty Institute is a non-profit public interest law firm and the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.

To arrange an interview, contact Peyton Luke at media@firstliberty.org.


News Release – 11.3.22

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