Louisiana would expand its "stand your ground" law to protect people who use deadly force in churches, under a bill heading to the full House for debate after escaping committee Wednesday with a one-vote margin.
Rep. Beryl Amedee, a Republican from Houma, proposed in House Bill 235 to add churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship to the list of locations where Louisiana residents can use deadly force "to prevent unlawful entry" or "compel an unlawful intruder to leave."
The list already includes a person's home, place of business and vehicle.
Amedee cited recent shootings at churches and synagogues, saying places of worship have become targets.
"Churches need to take steps to defend themselves when they're under attack," she said.
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The House criminal justice committee backed the measure by a 9-8, party-line vote, with Democrats opposed and Republicans in favor.
Committee Chairman Sherman Mack, a Republican from Albany, cast the tie-breaking vote to send the legislation to the House floor. The panel's lawmaker without party affiliation, Rep. Joe Marino of Gretna, voted with Democrats against it.
Oklahoma enacted a similar law last year.
Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, a Baton Rouge Democrat, said she couldn't support "inviting people to take weapons to church."
Rep. Valarie Hodges, a Denham Springs Republican, noted Louisiana law already allows guns in churches, synagogues and mosques if the pastor or religious leader agrees and notifies the congregation. Amedee said her bill would help an already armed congregant or parishioner to defend people.
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But Democrats said the stand your ground law's definitions are already too loose and they aren't interested in broadening them any further.
Rep. Royce Duplessis, a New Orleans Democrat, said churches should be places of peace.
"This gives me less peace," he said. "Anyone can say they feel threatened and are encouraged to shoot."
Rep. Ted James, a Baton Rouge Democrat, said the expansion included in Amedee's bill is too broad. He said the definition of place of worship, which includes a "place used for religious worship or other religious purpose," could include a prayer room at a hospital, for example. Amedee disagreed, saying she doesn't believe that would fall within the scope of the measure.