Alabama Is Letting a Church Form Its Own Police Force

The state senate approved a bill on Tuesday that leads to important questions, like: What happens if and when a church police officer breaks the law?

by Eve Peyser
Apr 11 2017, 10:53pm

Drew Angerer / Stringer / Getty Images

In a baffling move on Tuesday, the Alabama Senate voted 24–4 to allow Birmingham's Briarwood Presbyterian Church to form its own police force, the Associated Press reports

The church, which has more than 4,000 members, originally wanted its own police force as a way to protect its K–12 school and theological seminary. Back in March, Briarwood administrator Matt Moore told NBC News that the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting justified the need for a church-led force.

"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," Moore said in a statement.

A private institution having its own police force is potentially dangerous and leads to important questions like: What happens if and when a church police officer breaks the law? And who is allowed to police private law enforcement? 

"It's our view this would plainly be unconstitutional," the acting executive director of the ACLU, Randall Marshall, told NBC News. "These bills unnecessarily carve out special programs for religious organizations and inextricably intertwine state authority and power with church operations," he later said in a memo.

Another church protection bill, the Alabama Church Protection Act, is scheduled to be debated in the state legislature next Tuesday and is in some ways even more controversial than the one passed Tuesday. That bill would allow churches to have armed security guards, and moreover, give those guards legal immunity if they were to shoot anyone, so there's that.

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Briarwood Presbyterian Church