An outright ban on licensed gun carry in all places of worship is compatible with the Second Amendment, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick, an Obama appointee, denied a request for a preliminary injunction on Wednesday in a lawsuit challenging New York’s law deeming all churches “sensitive places” where civilian gun possession is prohibited. He found that the nation’s historical tradition of gun regulations supported the state’s ability to do so.
“There is a sufficient historical record to support the finding that houses of worship are sensitive places, where it is constitutionally permissible for the state to regulate the carrying of firearms,” Broderick wrote in Goldstein v. Hochul. “There are both laws that specifically outlaw the carrying of weapons in churches or places of worship, and broader founding era regulations that limit the ability for law-abiding individuals to carry weapons in public generally, which would include inside places of worship.”
The ruling deals a blow to gun-rights advocates by providing credence to the state’s argument it has broad power to restrict when and where lawful owners can carry their firearms. At the same time, the sting of the loss in court could be short-lived, pending the results of separate legal challenges to the same ban. Gun-rights advocates have already successfully secured at least three separate orders blocking the provision from two different federal judges. While those prior rulings blocking the ban were stayed by the Second Circuit, where those cases are now being heard on appeal, they were enough to prompt New York to abandon its total ban on carrying in places of worship. The state opted to add an exception for church pastors and “persons responsible for security” to carry guns in May.
Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Goldstein slammed the ruling as nonsense.
“New York isn’t even defending this position anymore,” he told The Reload. “The budget changes voided both of these provisions. As far as we are concerned, we won.”
Goldstein, who is not a plaintiff in the case but is a member of the New York State Jewish Gun Club which funded the suit, said the plan is to appeal the ruling.
“We don’t have a history of prohibiting guns in churches at the founding,” Goldstein said. “The judge bent over backwards to find reconstruction examples to define the right codified at the founding. We are absolutely going to appeal this. No way this is upheld.”
Unlike his counterparts in the Western and Northern Districts of New York who previously struck down the church carry ban, Judge Broderick found that “founding era” regulations limiting people’s ability to carry firearms publicly were common enough to support New York’s so-called Concealed Carry Improvement Act (CCIA) and its places of worship restriction. However, the historical examples he cited were all enacted well after the founding period. The laws Judge Broderick pointed to were passed in reconstruction-era Texas, Georgia, Virginia, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Arizona between 1870-1889.
“This review of the historical record indicates that there is a longstanding historical tradition of regulating firearm carriage in houses of worship,” he wrote.
The plaintiffs in the case included two Orthodox Jews who reported previously carrying firearms in their synagogue before the passage of New York’s ban. In their lawsuit filed last September, they argued that the prohibition made them vulnerable to anti-Semitic attacks and forced them to attend religious services less often. In support of their legal challenge, they cited pre-founding colonial statutes requiring churchgoers to be armed as evidence that gun carry in places of worship is part of the Second Amendment’s historical tradition.
Judge Broderick disagreed, saying that those laws were passed so that militiamen or free white men “could defend against potential attacks by Native Americans and Blacks during slave uprisings.” He said they were evidence of racism and should be disregarded.
“The laws cited by Plaintiffs concerning the mandatory carry of firearms in places of worship are rooted in racial supremacy, and had the reprehensible and shameful goal of preserving slavery,” he wrote. “They should not be considered or at a minimum deserve little or no weight in the analysis of the history and tradition of the regulation of firearm carry by law-abiding citizens for self-defense.”
Judge Broderick’s reasoning stands in contrast to New York’s arguments defending many of its own laws. The state has repeatedly cited explictly bigoted historical laws to support the defense of its Bruen-response carry law in other lawsuits challenging its constitutionality.
Despite excoriating the racist overtones of the cited laws, he said that their existence provided more evidence for his finding that “legislatures have long exercised significant regulatory power over firearm carry.”
His criticism was not just limited to the bigoted laws cited by the plaintiffs, however. He also took aim at the Supreme Court and the test it established for Second Amendment cases in its Bruen ruling.
“The implications of firearm ownership in both the founding and reconstruction eras was dramatically different from those in 2023, and thus, answering the question of whether statutes and regulations from those respective time periods are ‘relevantly similar under the Second Amendment’ is an enormously difficult task that is likely to lead to inconsistent decisions that are untethered to reality, and is considered by many to be an impractical and intellectually flawed approach,” Broderick wrote.
But Judge Broderick received his own critique from Rabbi Goldstein.
“If people are scared to go to synagogue because the state doesn’t protect them and they aren’t allowed to protect themselves: How is this not a violation of religious rights?” he asked.