'Cult' Heir Hosts 'Blessing' Ceremony Featuring AR-15s, Causes Nearby School to Relocate Students for Safety

Update| A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Southern Poverty Law Center identifies the Sanctuary Church as an anti-LGBT hate group. The Center considers the church to be soley an anti-LGBT organization. 

A Pennsylvania elementary school has informed parents it will temporarily relocate students to another school due to safety concerns on Wednesday. The move is a response to a "blessing" ceremony involving AR-15 rifles—similar to the weapon used to kill 17 people in a Florida high school on Valentine's Day.

Wallenpaupack South Elementary School, located in the Poconos, will move its students to the school's north campus when the controversial "Moonies" church, sometimes called a "cult," hosts an event commonly referred to as a "mass wedding" that is expected to involve semiautomatic rifles, WFMZ-TV news reported

The World Peace and Unification Sanctuary, also known as the Sanctuary Church, requested that its followers bring an "AR15 semiautomatic rifle or equivalents such as an AK semiautomatic rifle" to the 10 a.m. ceremony on February 28. The event—which was arranged months earlier, Sanctuary Church Administrator Gregg Noll told the news station—comes exactly two weeks after a similar military-style rifle was used in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting in Parkland, Florida.

The church is led by Hyung Jin Moon, son of the late Reverend Sun Myung Moon, a Korean religious leader and self-proclaimed messiah whose followers in the 1970s were known as "Moonies." In a press release issued the day before the school shooting, the church—identified as an anti-LGBTQ group by the Southern Poverty Law Center—invited "all heterosexual couples" who believe "Sun Myung Moon is the Messiah and that Hyung Jin Moon is his representative and heir" to participate in the wedding-like service either in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania or “at other locations via the Internet." 

The event is called the "Cosmic True Parents of Heaven, Earth and Humanity Cheon Il Guk Book of Life Registration Blessing," but is often described as a mass wedding where couples are blessed. "True Parents" is the term the church's followers use for Sun Myung Moon and his wife Hak Ja Han, who is also deceased. According to the church's website, Cheon Il Guk is defined as the sovereign "Kingdom of God (and/or Heaven)." 

GettyImages-168153102 The heir to the "Moonies" cult has invited the church's followers to bring an AR-15 or similar rifle to a "blessing" ceremony on Wednesday, exactly two weeks after the rifle was used to kill 17 people in at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

The church has dubbed the AR-15 the "rod of iron," "representing both the intent and the ability to defend one’s family, community and 'nation of Cheon Il Guk.'" Promotion of weapons of war is written into the religion's constitution, sections of which read nearly identical to the United States Constitution's Bill of Rights. Under "Principle II" the "The Constitution of the United States of Cheon Il Guk" states, "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a Free State, the right of the people (individuals) to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

Couples who are unable to bring a rifle to the service "because of laws barring the purchase of such weapons, or other reasons" were asked to buy a $700 gift certificate from a gun store to show their dedication to "purchase a 'rod of iron' in the future." 

"These actions to participate with crowns and a rod of iron/gift certificate are signs of attendance, sovereignty and vigilance to protect God’s coming nation of Cheon Il Guk," the church's website said. 

GettyImages-161827847 Thousands of couples take part in a mass wedding ceremony at Cheongshim Peace World Center on February 17, 2013 in Gapyeong-gun, South Korea. 3,500 couples from 200 countries around the world exchanged wedding vows for the first time after the Unification Church founder Moon Sun-Myung passed away. Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

Noll told WFMZ-TV that the event does not pose a threat to public safety. "Everything's going to be safe and secure," he told the station. Noll promised all the guns present on Wednesday will be unloaded.

All Wallenpaupack South Elementary School students who are absent on Wednesday will be marked excused and security will be ramped up on the campus all week, district officials told the news station.