Orthodox Jews Challenge NY Gun Ban in Houses of Worship

By Reuvain Borchardt

Plaintiff Meir Ornstein

NEW YORK — A shul and two Orthodox Jews are challenging New York State’s new restriction on carrying guns at houses of worship.

The state passed new laws in July barring people, even licensed firearm carriers, from bringing guns to a long list of “sensitive locations” including medical facilities, libraries, parks, Times Square, public transit, schools, and houses of worship.

The laws were passed after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that New York’s requirement that those seeking a concealed-carry permit demonstrate a special need beyond an ordinary citizen’s desire for self-defense, violates the Second Amendment’s “right of the people to keep and bear arms.” This Supreme Court ruling ostensibly vastly expand the number of New Yorkers who could obtain concealed-carry permits. In response, the state passed the restrictions on carrying guns in “sensitive places” —essentially swapping the restrictions on who may carry guns, for restrictions on where the guns may be carried.

The plaintiffs — Meir Ornstein of Rockland County, Steven Goldstein of Brooklyn, and Goldstein’s shul, Congregation Bnei Matisyahu — filed suit Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, specifically challenging the restrictions on carrying in houses of worship.

“The Statute makes it more dangerous to attend a ‘sensitive location’ than it would be had that law not been enacted, because it strips away the ability for people in that sensitive location to defend themselves,” reads the lawsuit, filed by attorneys Ameer Benno and Cory Morris. “The Statute singles out religious locations for this elevated, state-sanctioned, danger. This acts as a deterrent for law-abiding people to enter such ‘sensitive locations,’ including places of worship.”

Ornstein and Goldstein say they are licensed to carry firearms, and they have been taking their guns to shul due to a spike in antisemitic attacks in recent years, including deadly shootings in synagogues in Poway, California and Pittsburgh.  

The plaintiffs say they are fearful of attacks on their shuls and are more apprehensive of attending a shul that doesn’t have armed protection since this law went into effect.

The suit alleges that the new law “creates an irreconcilable conflict between two fundamental constitutional rights, presenting individuals with a Catch-22: exercising their right to self-defense under the Second Amendment by foregoing their First Amendment right to worship freely; or foregoing their right to self-defense under the Second Amendment in order to practice their right to free exercise of religion under the First Amendment,” requiring “a forfeiture by the individual plaintiffs, and by countless other New Yorkers, of a Constitutional right.”

Moreover, the law bars guns not only from “places of worship” but also of “religious observation,” which, according to the lawsuit, is unconstitutionally vague and can mean just about everywhere.

The Orthodox Jewish plaintiffs “wear a kippah and tzitzit everyday and say prayers before and after meals at restaurants and at home. On Rosh Hashanah, they observe the ceremony of tashlich where they cast bread into a flowing body of water — often performed at a public park. On Sukkot, they eat and pray in outdoor, open air structures,” the suit says. “And, in addition to prayer at synagogue on weekends, they are required by Judaic law to pray with ten congregants three times a day. The afternoon prayers often fall out in the middle of the workday, so they regularly organize prayer services in the workplace. Under the ban, such ‘mincha minyanim’ would be places of worship or religious observation even though they take place in all variety of ‘secular’ locations outside of the shul.”

A previous challenge to the new laws was tossed by Judge Glenn Suddaby of the Northern District of New York, who ruled that the plaintiffs in that case lacked standing, though in his ruling Suddaby went on to say that the law was unconstitutional. On Thursday, Suddaby heard a separate challenge to the law brought by upstate plaintiffs.

Josh Blackman, a conservative constitutional professor at South Texas College of Law, told Hamodia Thursday that he believes the Orthodox plaintiffs have a good chance of succeeding, though their suit is in the more liberal Southern District.

“The New York law forces Jews to make a choice: worship in shul or exercise their Second Amendment rights. They cannot do both,” said Blackman. “I think this suit has a strong chance of success. If a house of worship wishes to prohibit firearms, it can easily adopt that policy. The state should not force this choice on houses of worship that wish their members to be armed.”

The case is Goldstein v. Hochul. The lawsuit is available here


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