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A church is taking Wal-Mart to court over gun control issue
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Wal-Mart, one of America's most ubiquitous brands, will soon square off against a church in court. - photo by Kelsey Dallas
Wal-Mart, one of America's most ubiquitous brands, will soon square off against a church in court.

Trinity Church Wall Street, an Episcopalian parish in New York City that's more than three centuries old, wants the retailer to increase board oversight of the sale of high-capacity assault rifles. An ongoing lawsuit centers on a shareholder proposal submitted by the church in December 2013, which Wal-Mart leaders refused to include in their June 2014 annual meeting, Forbes reported.

At the time, the Securities and Exchange Commission sided with Wal-Mart, saying it was within the company's rights to exclude Trinity's proposal, Forbes noted. But then a Delaware federal court ruled in Trinity's favor, determining that Wal-Mart must allow its shareholders to vote on the church's proposal, which asked for the company's board members to have a larger role in decisions surrounding gun sales.

Legal representatives for both sides will meet again later this month to argue over Wal-Mart's appeal in Philadelphia's Third Circuit Court.

The Rev. Dr. James Cooper, Trinity's rector, told Forbes that his church isn't trying to tell Wal-Mart how to do its job. "We would just like them to tell us they have a system in place at the board level to protect the reputation of the company, its values, and protect" Americans from extreme harm, he said.

However, even if the conflict is couched in layers of corporate jargon, it is still, at its heart, about the religious response to gun violence, wrote David A. Graham for The Atlantic. Church leaders may phrase their complaint in terms of Wal-Mart not living up to its own standards, but their ultimate goal seems to be keeping more guns off the street.

"While Trinity's historical standing and massive endowment place it well out of the ordinary, its political stand is in line with many mainline Protestant churches. In fact, a coalition of mainline Protestant denominations, the Catholic Church, and Jewish and Muslim leaders are now among the staunchest institutional backers of stricter gun controls," he wrote.

A survey on gun control, published by Public Religion Research Institute in the wake of the December 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, found that a majority of members in most religious groups favor stricter gun control laws, including 67 percent of Catholics and 57 percent of white mainline Protestants.

The notable exception is white evangelical Protestants, of whom only 38 percent favor stricter laws, PRRI reported.

Although a decision on Wal-Mart's latest appeal isn't expected until later this year, Graham noted that the retailer, in the meantime, will have to worry about hits to its public image.

"Who wants to be seen fighting against a church, especially one that became a national icon for standing in the shadow of the Twin Towers on 9/11?" he wrote.
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