The Alabama Senate voted in favor of allowing a Birmingham megachurch launch its own security force. The proposed legislation will now move to the State House for a vote this week.
Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham has claimed that it needs its own law enforcement agency to guarantee its congregation’s safety. The state Senate Judiciary Committee gave the proposal a go-ahead last week and the request was then forwarded to the full Senate where it overwhelmingly passed with a 24-4 vote on Tuesday.
“The sole purpose of this proposed legislation is to provide a safe environment for the church, its members, students and guests,” church administrator Matt Moore said.
In addition to the 2,000 students and teachers who attend the k-12 school and theological seminary at Briarwood Presbyterian, over 4,000 worshippers congregate at the church regularly, according to a report by NBC News.
“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,” Mr. Moore told NBC News last month, referring to the massacre at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012.
Alabama law “provides for the employment of one or more persons to act as police officers at colleges and other private educational institutions,” he said.
Briarwood Presbyterian will be the first church in the US to have its own police force if the Senate bill approved on Tuesday, obtains approval from the state House and governor. This will open the doors to planned hiring of one or more persons to “protect the safety and integrity of the church and its ministries.”
“Persons employed as police officers pursuant to this section shall be charged with all of the duties and invested with all of the powers of law enforcement officers in this state,” a clause of the bill, SB 193 reads.
However, the bill has already garnered criticism from people who claim the effort challenges the US constitution clause that separates state from church.
“It’s our view this would plainly be unconstitutional,” the acting executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Randall Marshall, said in a statement to NBC News.
“Vesting state police powers in a church police force violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” Mr. Marshall wrote in a letter to the Senate.
“These bills unnecessarily carve out special programs for religious organizations and inextricably intertwine state authority and power with church operations.”
The Alabama House is scheduled to consider the bill Tuesday.