"Firmly committed to defending my church": Pastors sue over NY carry ban in houses of worship

A pair of pastors from western New York are the latest plaintiffs in string of lawsuits filed in the state since Democratic lawmakers imposed new restrictions on the right to carry in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning New York’s “may issue” laws earlier this year.

In the latest lawsuit, filed just a few days ago in conjunction with the Second Amendment Foundation and the Firearms Policy Coalition, Bishop Larry A. Boyd of Buffalo and Rev. Dr. Jimmie Hardaway, Jr., of Niagara Falls argue that the state’s new prohibition on concealed carry in houses of worship makes them less safe, and unable to protect their parishioners against intentional attacks on their churches or the random acts of violence in the neighborhoods where their churches are located.

Reverend Hardaway has carried both for self-defense and because he feels a unique obligation to his congregants as Pastor to be prepared in case of confrontation. Trinity Baptist is in a neighborhood that has struggled with violent incidents. Moreover, tragic shootings in churches across the country, like that in Charleston in 2015, have reaffirmed Hardaway’s desire to carry for self-defense in order to respond to those seeking to do harm.

Additionally, as Pastor, Reverend Hardaway establishes the firearms policy for Trinity Baptist. In that role, not only would he grant permission to himself to carry for purposes of keeping the peace in his church (as he did prior to S51001) but he would also encourage congregants, who are otherwise licensed to conceal carry, to carry on church premises for the defense of themselves and other congregants.

… Prior to the enactment of S51001, Bishop Boyd typically would carry a firearm concealed on Open Praise’s premises, in particular on Sundays and during services. Bishop Boyd has carried both for self-defense and because he feels a unique obligation to his congregants as Pastor to be ready in case of confrontation. Open Praise is in a neighborhood that has struggled with crime, violence, and gang-related issues. Moreover, tragic shootings in churches across the country, like in Charleston in 2015, have reaffirmed Boyd’s desire to carry for self-defense in order to respond to those seeking to do harm.

Additionally, as Pastor, Bishop Boyd establishes the firearms policy for Open Praise. In that role, prior to S51001, he previously granted permission to himself to carry for purposes of keeping the peace in his church and he allowed other licensed congregants to carry. He would continue to authorize licensed concealed carry by himself and congregants on church premises for self-defense, but for the enactment and enforcement of S51001.

For both Boyd and Hardaway, the mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston back in 2015 hit close to home. As pastors of churches with large congregations of black parishioners, the faith leaders say they’re gravely concerned that New York’s new laws put them and worshippers at risk, given that a crazed lunatic with murder on his mind is unlikely to obey the state’s edict not to bring a gun onto church property.

“Open Praise, like many places of worship, prides itself on being welcoming to all comers who wish to participate in services or join the church community. Even though I cherish this policy, there is a risk to it,” Boyd said in an affidavit. “We are a small congregation, yet I will not always know who will walk in the door for services, and I will not know if these strangers come with violent plans.”

Open Praise’s location in a neighborhood with frequent crime and gunfire makes him “particularly worried,” Boyd said.

The Charleston murders, he added, have made his conviction to carry a firearm stronger.

“Since that tragedy, I have felt my church is also at risk. That is why I am firmly committed to defending my church to prevent anything like Charleston happening to our church community at Open Praise,” he said.

And it’s absolutely his right to do so. New York’s new laws unconstitutionally strip Boyd, Hardaway, and every other faith leader from establishing the security policies that best suits their needs by prohibiting anyone other than licensed security or police from lawfully having a firearm on the premises. One federal judge in Syracuse has already indicated that the prohibition is likely unconstitutional, but his decision has been stayed from taking effect by a Second Circuit Court of Appeals judge, at least for the next couple of weeks.

Hardaway and Boyd, meanwhile, will get their first day in court this Thursday, when U.S. District Judge John L. Sinatra Jr., who was appointed by then-President Donald Trump in 2019, will hear an expedited request for a temporary restraining order specifically targeting the ban on concealed carry in churches. Here’s hoping the plaintiffs won’t have too long to wait before the ban is set aside, because every day that these laws remain on the books the fundamental rights of New Yorkers are being violated by their anti-gun lawmakers.