Have you seen the list? Schools, parks, libraries, child care programs, mental health centers, hospitals, buses, commuter trains, polling places—even casinos—are all places in which concealing and carrying a loaded weapon is prohibited.
But not churches, mosques, temples, synagogues, and other places of worship. Houses of worship—sacred spaces—are conspicuous by their absence in the list of places where concealed weapons will remain banned.
To put it bluntly, the new concealed carry law—HB 183, passed on May 31, 2013 by the Illinois General Assembly—says that individuals can now legally carry a loaded and concealed firearm into a lot of other establishments, including buildings designated for religious purposes. No longer can we see our churches as safe and secure places for worship, family support, and community service.
As the law currently stands, property owners can decide whether or not to permit persons to bring concealed weapons into their businesses and homes. Therefore, religious congregations that own their buildings can decide to prohibit guns on their property. But those congregations must then post signs indicating that guns are not permitted in their facilities. Congregations who rent their facilities will have to abide by the decisions of their property owners.
Several Community Renewal Society leaders and staff stood with Senator Dan Kotowski (D-28th District, Park Ridge) at his July 15, 2013 press conference when he announced an amendment that would add houses of worship to the list of gun-free places. Keenly aware that the concealed carry bill—without protection for churches and other houses of worship—passed the Illinois General Assembly by super majorities, we talked afterward about the “heavy lift” of this effort. After all, the legislature also overrode Governor Quinn’s amendatory veto re-write of the bill on July 9.
Does this mean that all of us should start working on our No Guns Allowed signs?
Not yet! This issue is too important. As Rev. Phil Blackwell said at the press conference, “To include us in the “gun-free” list is to free us to do our work on behalf of all; to not protect us is to dishonor our calling and to put us in jeopardy.”
What’s more, the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago, representing six million people in the broader Chicago area, has also called for a ban on concealed weapons in religious buildings. Saying, “Instruments of violence have no place in sacred spaces of worship,” the Council urged legislators to ban firearms from places of worship.
Six million people can create a powerful voice for reason and respect. By working together, we can achieve a gun ban for our congregations and faith-based community ministries so that we can continue our prophetic and pastoral ministries for the common good.
If you are ready to advocate for peace in our sacred spaces, add your name today. We’ll be in touch about next steps soon.
Our religious buildings have always been signs of hope, mercy, and justice in our communities. But, in this uncertain, fearful time, we may want some new signage on our buildings. Recently, someone posted a sign on a telephone pole outside my church.
The homemade wooden sign reads PEACE.