Defending Your House of Worship in Texas
Unspeakable deadly terroristic attacks upon our houses of worship (including those in Texas) seem to be increasing. What does Texas law allow a person to do when defending a flock from an armed agent of evil who attempts to bring death to a church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or other place of worship? Thankfully, it is legal to defend yourself and others from the unlawful use of force or deadly force.
Using Deadly Force Against an Active Shooter
Chapter 9 of the Texas Penal Code contains legal justifications regarding deadly force. You are generally allowed to use deadly force if you reasonably believe it is immediately necessary to defend against an attacker's use or attempted use of unlawful deadly force. This means if you see an active shooter and reasonably believe he is about to shoot you or another person, then you can respond with deadly force against the attacker. When it comes to protecting a "third person" (anyone other than yourself), if you were placed in their shoes, and they could legally use deadly force to protect themselves, you would most likely be authorized using deadly force to protect the third person. Simply stated, if they could defend themselves using deadly force in a certain situation, you would more than likely be permitted to use deadly force to defend them.
It is always important to remember these justifications are defenses that must be raised in court and may vary depending on specific facts. Justifications also do not grant immunity, so a person could still be charged with a crime or sued civilly for defending someone else.
When it comes to places of religious worship, Texas generally allows License to Carry ("LTC") holders to carry their handguns on their premises. If you have a valid LTC and a place of worship does not post an effective TPC 30.06 or 30.07 signs (or otherwise give you a valid legal notice), you may carry your firearm openly in a shoulder or a belt holster or concealed anywhere upon your person.
Mixed-Use Facility (e.g., Church/School)
If your place of worship is a "mixed-use" facility, meaning the premises is sometimes used as a school, you must exercise caution.
If the mixed-use premises is not owned by the government or an independent school district and is being used as a place of worship, the general rule of carrying pursuant to an LTC in a public place applies and you may carry so long as it is not being used as a school building. However, when it is being used as a school, you cannot carry pursuant to an LTC.
If your worship service takes place on premises owned by the government or an independent school district, it is always going to be treated as a school under Texas law, and you cannot carry pursuant to an LTC.
Whether a particular premise is considered a school can be a grey area, so the best practice is to obtain written authorization from the institution.
Volunteer Security Teams
Many religious communities in Texas have established voluntary security teams to combat deadly threats against their places of worship. In general, the head of a religious body can authorize community members to organize and carry in defense of their house of religious worship so long as the team is comprised of unpaid volunteers with valid LTCs who do not hold themselves out as commissioned security officers or otherwise wear distinct uniforms or badges with the word "security" on them.
Places of worship may also employ commissioned security guards or certified peace officers to provide more protection for their worshipers.
Always remember, preparation is vital when it comes to any use of force or deadly force in self-defense or defense of another. If your place of worship decides to use a voluntary security team, it's important to meet and train routinely to reduce the chances of any tactical or legal mistakes.
Author: Colm Keane
DISCLAIMER: The information on this website does not contain legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. Every case is different, and this material is not a substitute for, and does not replace the advice or representation of, a licensed attorney.