An Alabama megachurch plans to start its own police force thanks to a new law permitting the church to do just that.
The law, signed by Gov. Kay Ivey, authorizes Briarwood Presbyterian to “appoint and employ one or more suitable persons to act as police officers to protect the property of the school or academy.”
A similar bill was proposed four years ago, but it was dropped by the Alabama legislature amid a public outcry over the Presbyterian Church in America’s racist history, as well as criticism that the bill was unconstitutional and violated the Establishment Clause’s separation of church and state. Briarwood Presbyterian is part of the PCA.
Briarwood Presbyterian’s congregation is overwhelmingly white. Nearby Birmingham is two-thirds black.
The PCA is a conservative denomination that originated early 1970s Alabama. In 2016 it apologized for “racial sins” that included “the segregation of worshipers by race” as well as “the participation in and defense of white supremacist organizations,” among other things.
Officials at Briarwood Presbyterian Church say that a police force is necessary in order to adequately protect its 4,100 members, including 2,000 students and faculty on its two campuses.
The church hopes its new security force will keep intruders and prevent trespassers from accessing the property, it said in a press release that was posted by CNN affiliate WBRC.
The officers will complete state certified training by the Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission. The officers will also be trained on the proper use of a non-lethal weapon.
The ACLU of Alabama tweeted the new law undermines the separation of church and state are is “a threat to our freedom of religion and a violation of the Establishment Clause.”
“We expect this law to be challenged in the courts,” it said.
The new law is expected to go into effect in the fall.