Briarwood Presbyterian Church, of Birmingham, Alabama, will now be able to hire its own police force, after Governor Kay Ivey signed new legislation on Wednesday.
I wrote about the church's initial attempts to get its own police force back in March, 2017. Those efforts ultimately failed when opponents successfully argued that giving the church government power to form a police force violates the Establishment Clause.
The new law allows the church to set up its own law enforcement agency which will have jurisdiction over the seminary, sanctuary, and school campuses.
While defending themselves from criticism, church leaders have said that they need a private police force to protect their 4,100 congregants, 2,000 students, and their two school campuses. They point to recent armed attacks on schools and churches as justification.
The church already has private security though. The new law, however, will grant their private police force state authority, but with the police answerable to only to church officials. That has critics very worried. The officers on this church's police force, if they were to abuse their power, would only be answering to the church. And we all know how bad churches can be about holding their staff accountable.
The Briarwood Presbyterian Church is a member of the Presbyterian Church in America, a denomination with a history of racism and homophobia. This also has critics concerned.
Randall Marshall is the executive director of the ACLU of Alabama and he told The Associated Press that he believes the new law will be challenged in the courts.
In a statement, church leaders said, "We are grateful to the governor and our elected officials for approving our request to be added to the existing Alabama" law, referring to state law that allows certain educational institutions to appoint and employ one or more suitable persons to act as police officers.
With conservative lawmakers at both the federal level and local levels doing all they can to smash the wall separating church and state, this bill could set a dangerous precedent that would lead to other states passing such bills for more churches. Hopefully the law will be challenged, as Marshall suggested, and declared unconstitutional.