Wednesday, May 21, 2003
this article in the Star Tribune. UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, an expert on the first amendment, has some interesting thoughts on the issue along with a copy of their press release.
I thought that Scalia's "neutral law of general applicability" test in Smith was disastrous for religious freedom and that his fears that free exercise claims would turn each person into a law unto themselves was overblown. I'm generally pretty absolutist in my support of religious liberty. But this suit is helping me see Scalia's side of things. As far as I can tell from what they say themselves, this church has basically a political difference with the legislature, not a real religious problem. That makes me at least a little hopeful that this claim won't succeed, but with the courts in Minnesota, you can never be sure.
According to the Star Tribune,
The suit is based on these points:
• The requirement that the church allow guns in its parking lot. The church, at 4113 W. 54th St., has prohibited firearms on all of its property, including the church building, a child care center, a playground and the parking lot.
• The requirement that a private organization banning guns post 11-by-17-inch signs naming the organization and saying it "bans guns on these premises." The church has decided to post a sign that says, "Blessed are the peacemakers. Firearms are prohibited in this place of sanctuary."
• The requirement that the church modify its customary welcome of worshipers to include personal notification of the prohibition of firearms and a demand for compliance.
The church has a long history of promoting nonviolence, dating to the Vietnam War era, said co-pastor Pamela Fickenscher. Many members were involved in protesting the war in Iraq.
Article I, Section 16 of the Minnesota Constitution protects the right to worship according to your conscience and says that those rights "shall never be infringed...nor shall any control of or interference with the rights of conscience be permitted." Perhaps I simply don't understand this church's particular brand of Lutheranism, but it is difficult for me to see how exactly any of this is an "infringement" or an "interference" with their rights of conscience. The church is just not allowed to ban guns in the parking lot, and they disagree with the style that the state is asking them to convey their distaste for guns in the sanctuary. While the language of this provision is pretty broad, I am pretty sure that it does not prohibit the application of any state law that the membership of any church doesn't like very much. There needs to be a real religious objection, and even giving full weight to the claims of the church leadership, I don't understand what the religious objection is, or how the law is really "infringing" or "interfering" with their rights of conscience.
As far as I can tell, this is a really just about a pretty explicit political difference between the church and the Republicans who pushed for the conceal-and-carry legislation. It is worth noting (1) the church's history of anti-war activism, (2) the Democrats uniformly coming out in support of the lawsuit in the Star Tribune article, and (3) the fact that longtime Democratic operative David Lillehaug is the attorney for the church. Lillehaug, for those less familiar with him, sought the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 2000 and served in 2002 as a consultant to the candidacies of Paul Wellstone and Walter Mondale. This is not to say that religious differences must not be present if their are partisan political differences. It could very well be that the members of this church tend to be Democrats (if they even are) because of their religious beliefs. The problem I have with this is that it just smells so much like a partisan political fight for the sake of a partisan political fight.
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