I write to voice strong opposition to House Bill 334 that would allow a concealed handgun permit holder to carry a concealed handgun in a place of worship without the knowledge and consent of the leaders of the place of worship and their congregants — a provision that was crucial to a long and thoroughly debated compromise on concealed handguns in churches and synagogues (Act 94).
A house of worship is a sanctuary and an asylum. It is a place for families, neighbors, and friends to gather together to learn and grow in their faith and fellowship, and to worship in the manner and custom of their faith tradition. Our Founding Fathers were clear that believers had a fundamental right to be free from government interference with the practice of religion. HB 334 is a violation of that core liberty that would override the wishes, concerns, and rights of faith communities to decide for themselves who may carry a concealed weapon in their place of worship.
I must question why such a bill would even be considered at a time when our state is reeling from the health and economic repercussions of a deadly pandemic that require our elected officials’ undivided attention and deliberation. Why would such a bill be introduced when faith leaders are reluctant to appear at public hearings for concerns that they would endanger their congregants, many of whom are elderly, by contracting the virus? How can our democracy grow and thrive when a bill like HB 334 is not allowed a thorough vetting and deliberation that includes the leaders of the faith communities that will be most affected by its provisions?
I am also deeply concerned about two other bills that would result in a dangerous expansion of guns into public life and would disregard local communities’ rights to self-government. HB 140 would remove a local government's ability to regulate firearms at playgrounds, public buildings and commercial establishments within its jurisdictions. HB 781 would remove the ability of the governor, chief law enforcement officers, and parish government officials from regulating the sale of firearms during an emergency. I strongly oppose both HB 140 and HB 781, which along with HB 334, have rightly been identified as “extremist” by The Advocate, and have no business being considered in the throes of a pandemic.
I pray our legislators demonstrate the wisdom and courage to help lead us through this pandemic and work to build in its aftermath a more just, equitable, and safe Louisiana. We will be more safe, more just, and more equitable without unnecessary and reckless legislation like House Bills 334, 140 and 781.
THE REV. MORRIS K. THOMPSON JR.
Bishop, Episcopal Church — Diocese of Louisiana
(Also signed by eight other faith leaders)