Churches win another round on '05 gun law exemptions

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON
  • Star Tribune
  • February 5, 2008 - 8:51 PM

Forcing churches to allow guns in their parking lots and use state-mandated language for signs forbidding firearms is an unconstitutional infringement on religious freedom, the state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

The decision, which upheld a Hennepin County District Court ruling, means the Edina Community Lutheran Church can continue to legally ban guns with signs saying: "Blessed are the peacemakers. Firearms are prohibited in this place of sanctuary." Other churches may choose their own wording.

Parking lots, day-care centers and other charitable, educational and nonprofit facilities owned by churches also may continue to ban firearms under the ruling.

The Minnesota law permitting people to carry concealed firearms was passed in 2003 and amended in 2005. It required that any organization, business or institution wanting to ban guns use specific language stating that the building operator "bans guns in these premises."

It also didn't allow most property owners to ban guns from parking areas and space rented to other groups or businesses.

Tuesday's ruling doesn't change most of the law's provisions, including the requirement that sheriffs issue permits to carry handguns to applicants 21 and older who receive prescribed training and pass a background check.

Ben Wogsland, a spokesman for Attorney General Lori Swanson, said lawyers are reviewing the case and can't yet make a decision on an appeal.

Church leaders pleased

The Rev. Erik Strand of Edina Community Lutheran Church said he was pleased with the decision as did Marshall Tanick, the lawyer for Unity Church in St. Paul, which had also challenged the law.

"We're especially thankful that the court recognized and protected our congregation's witness to peacemaking and nonviolence in all relationships," Strand said in a written statement.

Tanick said the Court of Appeals ruled "on the broadest possible grounds. ... It underscores the importance of freedom of religion in Minnesota," he said.

In their suit, the Edina church's leaders argued that entrances to Lutheran churches are reserved for "important religious messages that can be traced to Martin Luther's act of nailing the 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany."

That argument was cited in the unanimous 32-page decision written by Judge David Minge and signed by Judges Jill Flaskamp Halbrooks and Terri Stoneburner.

"The uncontroverted affidavits before us establish that the sign provision does compel churches that wish to exclude firearms to act in a manner that is inconsistent with their religious beliefs by requiring that they place specific, conspicuous signs at every entrance to the church," Minge wrote.

Hamline University School of Law Prof. Joe Olson, a supporter of the law, said the decision is so insignificant that it's hardly worth talking about. "If they're going to be charging someone with trespass, they still have to give them notice that they're violating the policy," Olson said. "In order to effectively give notice, they're going to wind up posting signs and they can't hide them behind a potted palm."

Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747

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