The Bishop of Atlanta, the Rt. Rev. Robert Wright has issued a pastoral directive forbidding guns on all church properties. However, the bishop’s ban on firearms in all church owned properties — including rectories — has no standing under church law, canon lawyer Allan Haley tells Anglican Ink.
On 28 April 2014 Bishop Wright issue a pastoral directive stating: “My judgment, charge and directive – as the ecclesiastical or governing authority, of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, is that with the exception of on-duty law enforcement officers, firearms are not permitted in church buildings or on church property,” the bishop wrote.
The bishop’s letter comes in the wake of the passage of Georgia’s House Bill 60, which permits licensed concealed-weapons holders to bring firearms into the state’s churches, provided that an individual place of worship allows it. Bishop Wright’s statement goes further, however, as the language of his gun ban would forbid clergy who live in parish owned rectories from possessing any firearm.
In support of his directive, the bishop wrote: “My judgment and this policy are based on the normative understanding of the teachings of Jesus as the Episcopal Church has received them.”
Canon law expert Allan Haley noted the bishop’s gun ban has no legal force under Episcopal Church canon law. The Georgia statute makes the “governing authority of the place of worship the entity to decide whether guns shall be allowed,” he told Anglican Ink.
However according to the canons of the Episcopal Church, the “governing authority of a parish is it’s rector and vestry, not the bishop. Even the cathedral is governed by its dean and not the bishop. Therefore what the Bishop has done here is assume authority that he does not have under the national canons, and which the statute does not grant him,” Mr. Haley noted.