Georgia’s Catholic, Episcopal churches opt out of gun-rights expansion

Georgia’s Catholic and Episcopal churches are opting out of the state’s new expanded gun law.

Among other things, the expansive legislation signed by Gov. Nathan Deal (R) last week bans weapons from places of worship but gives religious leaders the authority to make exceptions to that ban for licensed gun owners. In the days since it was signed, senior religious leaders in the Catholic and Episcopal communities in Georgia have vowed not to allow such exceptions.

“[B]efore this legislation takes effect in July, I will officially restrict the presence of weapons in our Catholic institutions except for those carried by the people that civic authorities have designated and trained to protect and guard us — and those who are duly authorized law and military officials,” Catholic Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory wrote in an op-ed in this week’s Georgia Bulletin. Episcopal churches in Middle and North Georgia will follow a similar policy, the Diocese of Atlanta’s Bishop Robert Wright said in a statement this week.

The new law also allows licensed gun owners to carry the weapons into bars and some government buildings and modifies a number of other gun-related policies. Supporters and opponents describe the changes in exceptional terms. The National Rifle Association calls it ”the most comprehensive pro-gun bill in state history.” Americans for Responsible Solutions, the gun-control group founded by former congresswoman Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.), calls it ”the most extreme gun bill in America.”

Archbishop Gregory criticized the law, saying that the ”last thing we need” is more guns in public places:

Churches and other places of worship are intended to be sanctuaries — holy sites where people come to pray and to worship God. In this nation of ours, they have seldom been the locations where violence has disrupted the otherwise peaceful atmosphere. Yet even those occasions — rare as they may be — are not sufficient reasons to allow people to bring more weapons into God’s house.

In places of worship where exceptions to the ban are not made — as in the Episcopal and Catholic churches mentioned above — licensed gunowners who violate the policy are subject to a $100 fine. Unlicensed gunholders in violation of the ban would be found guilty of a misdemeanor.

Protestantism is far and away the leading religion among Georgia’s residents, according to a Pew Research religious survey. Evangelical protestants account for 38 percent of the state’s residents, with mainline protestants and historically black protestants each accounting for 16 percent. Twelve percent of the population are Catholic, and 13 percent are unaffiliated with a religion. Various other faith traditions account for roughly one percent or less of the population.