Amish Man Sues Government Over Needing an ID to Buy a Gun

Does federal law surrounding the Second Amendment violate his First Amendment right?

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An Amish man has filed suit against the federal government, claiming they are forcing him to violate his religious faith in order to exercise his Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Andrew Hertzler is an “active and practicing” member of the Amish community in Pennsylvania who wanted to buy a hunting rifle. When he presented his legal state identification, he was refused the weapon because his ID didn’t have a photo on it. Federal law requires a photo ID for you to exercise your right to bear arms.

The problem is, the Amish faith believes having a photo taken is violating the word of God.

The Washington Post reports that the suit reads, in part, “This belief stems from the Biblical passage Exodus 20:4, which mandates that ‘You shall not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth,’ as well as the Christian belief in humility.”

Hertzler opted first to contact Senator Pat Toomey (R-Penn.), who contacted the ATF to no avail.

“As the enclosed response [from the ATF] states, Federal firearm laws require photo identification when purchasing a firearm. There are no exceptions to this federal requirement,” Toomey wrote.

“Mr. Hertzler confronts Hobson’s choice: either forego his constitutional right to keep and bear arms in defense of himself and his home, or violate his religion,” the suit read.

Here’s the important point made in the suit, “The exercise of one Constitutional right cannot be contingent upon the violation or waiver of another.”

“By knowingly and willingly sitting for a photograph, even for a state-issued identification document, Mr. Hertzler would be violating his religion by taking a graven image of himself. Thus, Mr. Hertzler’s religious freedom has been substantially burdened — in order to exercise his fundamental right to possess a firearm for defense of himself and his home, the Government is requiring him to violate a major tenet of his sincerely held religious belief.”

The court has a challenge ahead of it. Do they give an exemption to the Amish, or mandate they violate their religious beliefs in order to purchase a new firearm?

A guest post on this story at Patterico’s Pontificiations points to a study by the Congressional Research Service titled, “Legal Analysis of Religious Exemptions for Photo Identification Requirements.”

It’s actually an interesting read and gives you some insight on how this case will be decided. For example, under the subheading “Elements of Analysis of Religious Objections to Photo Requirements,” it reads:

In challenges to legal requirements that may infringe on an individual’s religious exercise, courts generally consider three questions: (1) Is the individual’s religious belief sincerely held?; (2) Would the legal requirement impose a substantial burden on the individual’s religious exercise?; and (3) Is the burden sufficient to overcome the government’s interest in applying the requirement without an exemption?

This only brings up more questions, such as how do you determine if a belief is “sincerely held?” Or what determines whether something is a “substantial burden?”

The study answers the first one, writing, “courts generally examine whether the individual applies the belief consistently in his or her own practices,” which explains why the suit stated Hertzler was an “active and practicing” member of the Amish community.

An interesting excerpt from the study is found towards the end. It reads, “Under the analysis used in photo identification cases, if a legal requirement for a photograph infringes on an individual’s sincerely held religious beliefs, the government must prove that the individual’s religious exercise is not substantially burdened by the requirement or that the state’s interest outweighs the burden under the standard imposed by the relevant law under which the photo requirement is challenged.”

So does the state’s interest outweigh the burden? People who believe rights are unalienable would say no, but others less inclined to put the individual before the collective might disagree.

One thing is clear from what is found in the study — any exemption given to Hertzler will only apply to members of the Amish community and in order to receive it, one will have to prove they are an “active and participating” member.  That’s no easy feat. Generally, the Amish aren’t willing participants in fraud and deceit.

Of course, there is another option, but straw purchases are illegal, too.

Perhaps the Amish will just have to abuse the gun show loophole in order to own guns. That is, until the right to sell your private property to another free person is outlawed also.

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Photo Credit: Tyler Olson/123rf
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1 comment

  1. goodwater Reply

    The natural right of a human to protect oneself which is codified in the 2nd Amendment is a wall between the federal government and the individual. In other word – hands off federal government. Furthermore – on more than one occasion the Founders also proclaimed that the right of possession of arms by the people is a defense against a rogue government.