CLAIM

Mississippi has passed a bill granting churchgoers the right to shoot and kill citizens at will. See Example(s)

EXAMPLES
Collected via e-mail, April 2016

Did Mississippi pass a bill (House Bill 786) allowing designated members of the church to kill with little to no restrictions or oversight?

MOSTLY FALSE

RATING

MOSTLY FALSE

WHAT'S TRUE

The "Mississippi Church Protection Act" includes provisions for the arming and training of designated security personnel in the state's churches and classes armed defense of a church's congregants as "justifiable homicide."

WHAT'S FALSE

The "Mississippi Church Protection Act" does not explicitly recognize "Soldiers of God" or enable congregants to kill at will with legal impunity.

ORIGIN

On 30 March 2016, web site The Free Thought Project published an article reporting that the state of Mississippi had passed a bill granting churches the power to act as “soldiers of God,” with congregants gaining the ability to legally kill other citizens while taking part in religious services:

As if police officers kidnapping, beating, and killing innocent people in America with impunity wasn’t enough, the state of Mississippi just passed a Bill that will grant churches equal protection from acts of violence.

Mississippi House Bill 786, the “Mississippi Church Protection Act” legalizes killing people while acting as a participant of a church or place of worship — seriously.

This Bill legally recognizes actual “soldiers of Christ” and grants them the power to kill. By passing this bill, the state of Mississippi effectively recognizes churches as their own sovereign entities — mini-states that are tax-free and immune from their acts of violence carried out in their official duties. “[T]his legislation would put ‘soldiers of God’ above the law, allowing them to act as judge, jury, and executioner,” said Larry T. Decker, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America.

An article published on the same date by the Addicting Info web site provided a slightly less alarmist report:

Mississippi Republicans are taking a “shoot first, ask questions later” approach to preventing potential church violence with a bill that amounts to legalizing religious “security” squads tasked with killing perceived threats. The state’s Republican-led senate passed the so-called “Mississippi Church Protection Act” which would militarize the state’s churches while also walking back gun regulations and stripping away oversight .

The bill would allow churches to create security programs and designate and train members to carry concealed weapons. It would provide criminal and legal protections to those serving as church security.

The bill also would allow concealed carry in a holster without a permit in Mississippi, expanding a measure passed last year that allowed concealed carry without a permit in a purse, satchel or briefcase, and another recent law that allows open carry in public … Mississippi church goers will now get to assign church members as “security” which can carry concealed weapons without permits and are protected from legal liability if their actions result in death based on a designation of “justifiable homicide” — the same legal standing that we afford police officers on duty.

Both sites linked to the Mississippi legislature’s House Bill 786, which does not include any wording referencing “soldiers of Christ” or “soldiers of God” anywhere in its text:

AN ACT TO CREATE THE “MISSISSIPPI CHURCH PROTECTION ACT”; TO AMEND SECTION 45-9-101, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, TO CONFORM TO THE PRECEDING SECTION; TO BRING FORWARD SECTION 97-37-7, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, FOR PURPOSES OF AMENDMENT; TO AMEND SECTION 97-37-9, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, TO REVISE THE LIST OF DEFENSES FOR A PERSON INDICTED OR CHARGED FOR A VIOLATION OF THE PROVISION OF LAW REGULATING THE USE OF FIREARMS; TO AMEND SECTION 97-3-15, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, TO PROVIDE THAT KILLING A PERSON WHILE ACTING AS A PARTICIPANT OF A CHURCH OR PLACE OF WORSHIP SECURITY TEAM IS JUSTIFIABLE HOMICIDE; AND FOR RELATED PURPOSES.

While The Free Thought Project maintained that the bill “legally recognizes actual ‘soldiers of Christ’ and grants them the power to kill” and that “the state of Mississippi effectively recognizes churches as their own sovereign entities,” the actual text of the bill creates a legally codified way of assembling security details (with the participation of the Mississippi Department of Public Safety) who may possess concealed weapons in places (such as churches) that were previously off-limits to concealed carry:

The Mississippi concealed firearms law has been amended to allow licensed gun owners who have “additional” training to carry concealed firearms in certain locations previously prohibited by law. These locations include courthouses, polling places, government meetings, any school, college or professional athletic event, bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, any elementary or secondary school facility, any junior college, community college, college or university facility, inside the passenger terminal of any airport, and in any church or other place of worship.

It’s possible that some readers misinterpreted the bill’s phrase “to provide that killing a person while acting as a participant of a church or place of worship security team” to mean “participant of a church” or “participant of a security team,” but the bill references only trained security team members acting under the direction of church officials. Such persons would be shielded from civil liability stemming from the performance of their duties:

The governing body of any church or place of worship may establish a security program by which designated members are authorized to carry firearms for the protection of the congregation of such church or place of worship, including resisting any unlawful attempt to kill a member(s) or attendee(s) of such church or place of worship, or to commit any felony upon any such member or attendee in the church or place of worship or in the immediate premises thereof. Any church or place of worship that establishes a security program that meets the requirements of subsection (2) of this section and any participant of such security program shall be immune from civil liability for any action taken by a member of such security program, if such action occurs during the course and scope of the member’s performance of their official duties as a member of the security program for the church or place of worship.

In order to be eligible for the immunity provided in this section, such program shall at a minimum: (i) require each participant of the program to have a firearms permit issued under Section 45-9-101; and (ii) require each participant to complete an instructional course in the safe handling and use of firearms as described in Section 97-37-7.

The Charleston church shooting in June 2015 appeared to be at least part of the impetus behind the introduction of the bill, as that specific incident was cited by a Mississippi lawmaker:

Rep. Andy Gipson of Braxton says he authored the bill in response to a church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. He says the bill gives small churches and other houses of worship an extra option for security.

While it is true the bill allows for armed security personnel to be present at church services, it isn’t aimed at allowing ordinary churchgoers to kill at will, nor does it specifically designate persons as “soldiers of God” or “soldiers of Christ” and grant them absolute legal immunity from prosecution for killing anyone during church services.  Under the provisions of the bill, any person seeking legal protection from criminal prosecution for involvement in a fatal shooting committed during church services would still be subject to arrest and trial with the hope that a jury would agree his actions were justifiable.

Sources:

Agorist, Matt.    “Bill Grants Churches the Power to Make ‘Soldiers of God’ Who Can Legally Kill Citizens Like Cops.”
     The Free Thought Project.     30 March 2016.

Horowitz, Jason.    “Nine Killed in Shooting at Black Church in Charleston.”
    The New York Times.    17 June 2015.

Associated Press.    “Bill Allowing Guns in Church Heading to Mississippi Governor.”
    5 April 2015.

Mississippi Legislature.    “Mississippi Church Protection Act.”
      8 February 2016.