This church wants to form its own police force
Stop, in the name of Christ! A megachurch in Alabama is on the verge of establishing its own police force made up of gun-toting officers who have the same power as local law enforcement. Briarwood Presbyterian Church, which is also home to a K-12 school and theological seminary, claims it needs a team of cops to patrol the grounds and protect its 4,100 members and 2,000 students and teachers, according to NBC News.
A bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader J.T. Jabo Waggoner allowing the Birmingham sanctuary to employ its own police squad under Alabama s nonprofit corporation law was agreed upon last week by the Senate Judiciary Committee and sent to the full Senate for a final vote.
The sole purpose of this proposed legislation is to provide a safe environment for the church, its members, students and guests, church administrator Matt Moore explained in a statement.
After the shooting at Sandy Hook and in the wake of similar assaults at churches and schools, Briarwood recognized the need to provide qualified first responders to coordinate with local law enforcement, he said, referencing the 2012 mass murder of 20 first-graders and six teachers at the Connecticut elementary school.
According to Moore, Alabama s corporation law provides for the employment of one or more persons to act as police officers at colleges and other private educational institutions. Briarwood is seeking to appoint and employ one or more persons to act as police officers and protect the safety and integrity of the church and its ministries, the bill says.
Persons employed as police officers pursuant to this section shall be charged with all of the duties and invested with all of the powers of law enforcement officers in this state, it reads. The ACLU of Alabama is opposing the SB 193 bill, along with another proposed piece of legislation, dubbed The Alabama Church Protection Act. Under this, churches would be able to let their congregants serve as armed security guards.
It s our view this would plainly be unconstitutional, Randall Marshall, the ACLU s acting executive director, told NBC News.
He later wrote in a memo to the Senate that the bill would ultimately violate the First Amendment of the US Constitution and, if enacted, would not survive a legal challenge.
Vesting state police powers in a church police force violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, Marshall wrote. These bills unnecessarily carve out special programs for religious organizations and inextricably intertwine state authority and power with church operations.
The only known police force that serves a church is the Corps of Gendarmerie of Vatican City, which protects the pope and visitors of Rome. They patrol the Vatican with the Swiss Guard.