New Alabama law allows church to hire its own police force

MONTGOMERY Ala. – Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law Wednesday a measure granting the Briarwood Presbyterian Church the right to set up its own law enforcement agency to cover its sanctuary, seminary and sprawling school campuses, despite criticism that the measure was unconstitutional.

A similar measure, first proposed four years ago, was dropped in 2017 after opponents argued that it grants government power to a religious institution in violation of the Establishment Clause, NPR reported.

Nevertheless, church officials say they need their own police force to protect its 4,100 members, 2,000 students and two campuses in neighboring Jefferson and Shelby counties. Their decision comes in light of armed attacks on schools and churches, according to the report.

Here is the press release from Briarwood:

In March 2016, the Alabama Legislature established an Emergency Task Force on School Safety and Security, which released its report, “A New Culture of Safety” December 31 of that year. The report recognized that the presence of qualified first responders and law enforcement officers has proven to be the number one line of defense in providing a safe environment, and recommended that each Alabama school have a resource officer on location.

Briarwood Christian School, a ministry of Briarwood Presbyterian Church, is a Class 5A school with approximately 2,000 students and faculty located on two campuses in unincorporated Jefferson and Shelby County, Alabama. Briarwood is grateful for and enjoys a wonderful working relationship with the law enforcement agencies in the communities in which it resides: Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, Shelby County Sheriff’s Department, and Vestavia Hills Police Department and desires to continue these partnerships. Briarwood also recognizes the State budgetary issues identified by the Emergency Task Force on School Safety and Security which coupled with the demand for APOST certified qualified first responders creates stress on our law enforcement departments. This can and does lead to full-time staffing issues for both campus locations.

Alabama Code 16-22 allows certain educational institutions to appoint and employ one or more suitable persons to act as police officers to keep off intruders and prevent trespass upon the institution property. The institutions currently provided the protection under this statute include a number that have less students than does Briarwood Christian School.

We are grateful to the governor and our elected officials for approving our request to be added to the existing Alabama Code 16-22.

Critics say the mega-church already has private security. However, under the new law it would gain state authority. Opposing views fear that could be abused if officers are answerable only to church officials.

The new law takes effect in the fall. Randall Marshall, the executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, told The Associated Press he expects the law will be challenged in the courts.

Other critics say the church has a history of racism and homophobia, although the news report did not identify specific circumstances to corroborate the claim. Other news accounts have simply identified biblical doctrine they claimed to be discriminatory.

Church officials said current Alabama state law “allows certain educational institutions to appoint and employ one or more suitable persons to act as police officers to keep off intruders and prevent trespass upon the institution property,” according to a statement made to WBRC in Birmingham.

“We are grateful to the governor and our elected officials for approving our request to be added to the existing Alabama” law, the statement concluded.

(Feature image courtesy Brenna Joy Photography)

 

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