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An Alabama megachurch is seeking to establish its own police department — and a bill that would green light the force is already moving through the state senate, reports NBC News.
Briarwood Presbyterian Church, which has a reported 4000+ person congregation, is making arguments that it is in need of its own police force to fight threats, using its containment of a K-12 school and theology seminary which houses 2000 students and teachers, explains 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,” church administrator Matt Moore said in a statement.
“The sole purpose of this proposed legislation is to provide a safe environment for the church, its members, students and guests.”
According to NBC News the church would employ the officers independently.
NBC News explains that Moore wrote in his statement that Alabama law “provides for the employment of one or more persons to act as police officers at colleges and other private educational institutions.”
Moore and Briarwood’s campaign for private law enforcement has not gone without contestment. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has, according to NBC News, been pressuring the Alabama Senate Majority leader and other in the state legislature to vote no on the bill, as well as another bill called The Alabama Church Protection Act that would enable to churches to tap gun-toting congregants for security and provide them with legal protections if they shoot anybody.
“It’s our view this would plainly be unconstitutional,” Randall Marshall, the ACLU’s Acting Executive Director, told NBC News.
NBC News mentions that in a memo to the legislature, Marshall said they believe the bills “violate the First Amendment or the U.S. Constitution and, if enacted, would not survive a legal challenge.”
“Vesting state police powers in a church police force violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” his memo states. “These bills unnecessarily carve out special programs for religious organizations and inextricably intertwine state authority and power with church operations.”
One Democrat is coming to the aid of the church however, State Senator Rodger Smitherman said he understands why the church would want its own force because “they are in a remote area,” reports NBC News.
“I voted to get it out of committee after getting assurances that they would act like a real police force and they would not be an agency that covers things up,” he said.
That said, Smitherman added, “There are valid constitutional concerns and I think this issue needs to be properly vetted before the Senate votes on it.”
Alabama has given a few private universities the authority to have a police force, but never a church or non-school entity, the Associated Press reported, noting that opponents have expressed worries that churches would be able to cover up crimes, NBC News explains.
Alabama’s Senate Judiciary Committee voted to send the bill, SB 193, to the full Senate for a full vote, said NBC News.