Religious Freedom: Must Amish Man Have a Photo ID to Purchase a Gun?

Law Shield has taken note of a peculiar — but important — gun-rights suit in Pennsylvania: an Amish man filed a federal lawsuit because he wants to buy a gun without the required photo ID. The hang-up: Getting that photo ID would violate his religious beliefs.

According to the civil-rights suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on Oct. 23, Andrew Hertzler from Lancaster County, Pa., is an “active and practicing Amish adherent” who “has a sincerely held religious belief that prevents him from knowingly and willingly having his photograph taken and stored.”

Further, the suit says, “The Amish faith prohibits an individual from having his/her photograph taken. 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.”

Mr. Hertzler desired to purchase a handgun for purposes of self-defense within his home, which is at the core of the Second Amendment. In June, Hertzler tried to buy a gun from a Pennsylvania dealer “using a non-photo, state-issued identification.” The dealer told Hertzler he needed a picture ID.

As Law Shield members are aware, Federal firearm laws require photo identification when purchasing a firearm, and to our knowledge, there are no exceptions to this federal requirement.

Thus, the suit reads: “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.” Further, the suit says, “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,” the suit says. “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.”

Perhaps Mr. Hertzler can arrange a private purchase with an individual who is not an FFL. In that transaction, Hertzler would not have to provide a picture ID. Wouldn’t it be rich if DOJ/ATF argues that the private-sales channel option moots Mr. Hertzler’s suit?

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