By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) - Leaders of two Christian denominations in Georgia said this week that guns had no place in their churches and they would opt out of a new state law allowing firearms in houses of worship as part of a broad expansion of gun rights.
The law, which takes effect on July 1, permits lawful gun owners to bring weapons into public places such as churches and bars, but allows church officials and bar owners to ban guns from their buildings.
Atlanta's Catholic archbishop, Wilton Gregory, wrote in the diocese's newspaper on Wednesday that he opposed the measure, which was passed by the state's Republican-led legislature and signed last month by Republican Governor Nathan Deal.
"The last thing we need is more firearms in public places, especially in those places frequented by children and the vulnerable," Gregory said, adding he will allow only police and military officials to bring weapons into diocesan churches.
The state's two Episcopal bishops have announced similar decisions for that denomination's churches in Georgia.
"My judgment and this policy are based on the normative understanding of the teachings of Jesus as the Episcopal Church has received them," the Reverend Robert Wright, bishop of the church's Atlanta diocese, wrote on Monday.
Previous Georgia law banned firearms from churches and bars outright. Critics of the new law, including the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, said it gives gun owners too much leeway and could make the jobs of police harder.
Governor Deal's spokesman said the law allowed churches to proceed exactly as the Catholic and Episcopal leaders have done.
"As we've said, the bill allows for local control and self-determination," spokesman Brian Robinson said on Friday.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Steve Orlofsky)