June 24th, 2019: For the latest on this story, check out this post.
Some disturbing news out of Alabama last week when it was reported that the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill on Wednesday that would allow the Briarwood Presbyterian Church to employ their own police force.
Uh, can you say “theocracy”?
The bill now needs the approval of the state Senate to move forward. Matt Moore, the church’s administrator, cited the Sandy Hook school shooting in December of 2012, when discussing the motivation for the decision to pursue a private police force for the church. But despite Moore’s statement, many think that a more likely motivating event was a drug bust in early 2015 that involved several students from Briarwood’s private high school. As this local news article points out, the drug bust was shrouded in secrecy. The superintendent, Barrett Mosbacker, refused to answer calls or emails from parents and reporters trying to get more information about the drugs involved, the number of students who were implicated, and other details about the incident.
Critics of this bill have pointed out that a police force loyal to the church could cover up crimes, and have asked whether or not this private police force would cooperate with other local law enforcement. Christian churches have a sordid history in terms of covering up crimes committed by their own. Look at the Roman Catholic Church’s history of protecting priests who abuse children. Or the Vatican Bank’s history of illicit dealings. We already know that the administrators of Briarwood Presbyterian Church have done whatever they can to cover up the facts regarding the 2015 drug bust. That does not exactly inspire a lot of confidence in how they will wield their own police force.
Richard Levy, a constitutional law professor at Kansas University, said when questioned about the bill, “It’s making the church take the role of government. I would expect that if the law is enacted it would not be very long before it is challenged.” Let’s hope so, Richard.
With the separation between church and state already under threat by the Trump administration with people like Betsy DeVos in key cabinet positions, this kind of action is alarming. If the bill does get enacted it could set a disturbing precedent that would lead to other states passing such bills. Hopefully if the law does get passed it will be quickly challenged on constitutional grounds, as Levy suggested. This is something we definitely want to stop from becoming a trend.