Here comes the holy police force.
Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama, hopes to create its own police force to protect its more than 4,000 members and 2,000 students and teachers. The Alabama State Judiciary Committee approved SB 193 on Wednesday, March 15. The bill now awaits approval by the Alabama Senate, according to US 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,” said Matt Moore, a church administrator, according to the New York Post.
The Alabama House recently passed a parallel bill, nicknamed the “Alabama Church Protection Act,” which would allow churches to select security guards from their congregations, and equip them with guns as they patrol. It also contains clauses to legally protect the officers if they shoot someone.
“It’s our view this would plainly be unconstitutional,” Randall Marshall, Acting Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, told NBC News.
In a memo to the Alabama Senate, Marshall argued that SB 193 violated the First Amendment and would not survive in court, according to the New York Post.
The bill states that every police officer appointed to guard the church would first need to certify in the Alabama Peace Officers Standards, as well as meet additional education requirements.
Sheriffs’ deputies from Jefferson and Shelby Counties, which both border the church’s property, already patrol the complex, according to 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,” said Alabama State Senator Rodger Smitherman. Although he supported the bill, Smitherman noted that there are “valid constitutional concerns,” according to NBC News.
Sgt. Jack Self of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department told NBC News that he has never heard of a church-formed police force, other than the Vatican.