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Posted: January 25, 2011 6:49 p.m.

Gun ban in churches upheld

ATLANTA — A federal judge upheld Georgia law banning guns in churches and other places of worship by dismissing a lawsuit Monday that claims the ban violates constitutional rights to freedom of religion and bearing arms.

The lawsuit had been filed by a gun rights organization — GeorgiaCarry.org — and the Rev. Jonathan Wilkins of the Baptist Tabernacle of Thomaston.

Plaintiffs had argued that they should be allowed to have firearms in places of worship "for the protection of their families and themselves" without fear of arrest on a misdemeanor charge. Wilkins said he wanted to have a gun for protection while working in the church office.

U.S. District Judge Ashley Royal wrote that Georgia law does not violate those constitutional rights. The judge noted that members of the church had not claimed their religious beliefs "require that any member carry a firearm into the Tabernacle, whether during worship services or otherwise."

Worshippers are free to leave their weapons in their cars, or with security or management at the door as they go inside to worship. In the minister's case, he could have a gun in the church office as long as he has permission from the church's management, the judge wrote.

The lawsuit had been filed in response to a 2010 change in Georgia law which removed the prohibition of guns at public gatherings. The change replaced "public gatherings" with a more specific list of sites including places of worship, government buildings, polling places and nuclear power plants.

No decision has been made about appealing Royal's decision or dropping the issue, said John Monroe, who represents GeorgiaCarry.org.

Also Monday, state Rep. Bobby Franklin, R-Marietta, filed a bill that would remove places of worship from the list of places where guns are prohibited.

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