Alabama Law Allows Church With Racist Past to Form Police Force

A new Alabama law is allowing a megachurch with a racist history to create its own police force to protect the church’s sanctuary, seminary, and school campuses. The law will also allow the church to conduct arrests for crimes committed on its grounds. Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed the law allowing Briarwood Presbyterian Church to “appoint and employ one or more suitable persons to act as police officers to protect the property of the school or academy.” Briarwood Church officials said that it needs its own police force to protect its 4,100 members, as well as 2,000 students and two campuses in neighboring Jefferson and Shelby counties.

In a statement to The North Star, the church said that it was grateful to enjoy a “wonderful working relationship with the law enforcement agencies in the communities in which it resides… 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 demands for [Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission APOSTC] certified qualified first responders creates stress on our law enforcement departments,” the statement continued. “This can and does lead to full-time staffing issues for both campus locations.”

Church officials said that current Alabama state law allows certain educational institutions to have at least one “suitable person” act as a police officer to ward off intruders and prevent trespassers from accessing the property. “The institutions currently provided the protection under this statute include a number that have less students than does Briarwood Christian School,” the statement said. Officers of the new police force will be required to complete state certified training by the APOSTC. According to CNN, officers will also be trained on how to properly use non-lethal weapons.However, critics argue that the megachurch has private security and that the new law could allow the church to potentially cover up crimes committed on its campus. Randall Marshall, the executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, told the Associated Press (AP) that he expects the law to face legal challenges for unconstitutionally giving government power to a religious entity.

“These attempts to undermine the separation of church and state are a threat to our freedom of religion and a violation of the Establishment Clause,” the ACLU of Alabama tweeted. “We expect this law to be challenged in the courts.”A similar bill was proposed four years ago but was dropped in 2017 after opponents argued that it would violate the Constitution’s Establishment Clause of separation of church and state, NPR reported. At the time, church leaders pointed to mass shootings at schools and churches as a reason for the police force.

“After the shooting at Sandy Hook and in the wake of similar assaults at churches and schools, Briarwood recognizes the need to provide qualified first responders to coordinate with local law enforcement,” church administrator Matthew Moore said, according to Birmingham Watch.Critics also noted the racist and homophobic history of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), which counts Briarwood as a member. The PCA, a conservative Christian denomination that was established in Alabama in the 1970s, has a history of racist actions.

In 2016, the PCA apologized for the church’s “racial sins,” which included “the segregation of worshipers by race” and “the participation in and defense of white supremacist organizations.” That same year, the PCA also established a “Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation” study committee to assess how the church was handling racial reconciliation, identify problems that need to be addressed, and recommend steps it could take to remedy those situations. According to the Pew Research Center, the PCA is overwhelmingly white. About 80 percent of PCA members identify as white, while just six percent identify as Black. Another six percent identify as Latinx, three percent as Asian, and five percent as “other/mixed.”CNN noted that while Briarwood Presbyterian’s congregation is overwhelmingly white, the neighboring city of Birmingham is two-thirds Black.

The new law, which does not apply to all churches in the state, is set to go into effect in the fall. “We are grateful to the governor and our elected officials for approving our request to be added to the existing” Alabama law, Briarwood Presbyterian told The North Star.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.