Alabama Governor Kay Ivey approved a law which will set a very strange precedent in the state, allowing churches to hire their own private police forces.
The Briarwood Presbyterian Church was the organization that pushed the measure, by demanding the right to set up its own law enforcement agency to protect its members on its numerous properties.
Representatives of the church insist that the police force is necessary because there have been violent attacks across their properties recently.
The church community is massive, with over 4,100 members, 2,000 students, and two campuses. Church officials say that this area is too vast for the police to monitor, and they are not equipped to give the area the attention that it needs, especially during the night hours.
The sanctuary at Briarwood Presbyterian Church, in Birmingham, Ala. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has signed legislation permitting the church to hire its own police force. Photo Credit: Anthony Izaguirre, AP
Critics suggest that this is a constitutional violation and that the church’s needs are already being provided by private security guards that patrol the properties. Also, civil liberty experts suggest that this will put unprecedented power into the church’s hands, allowing their officers to act with impunity because they are not bound by the laws of the state.
Randall Marshall, the executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, told The Associated Press that he expects the law to be challenged and that it may not be accepted by the courts after the decision is appealed.
However, according to a statement made to WBRC in Birmingham, the church believes that they are within the law to hire their own police.
“[Alabama state law] allows certain educational institutions to appoint and employ one or more suitable persons to act as police officers to keep off intruders and prevent trespass upon the institution property. We are grateful to the governor and our elected officials for approving our request to be added to the existing Alabama law,” the statement read.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey Photo Credit: The Advocate
The statement said that the church has a great working relationship with the neighboring police agencies, which include Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, Shelby County Sheriff’s Department, and Vestavia Hills Police Department.
“Briarwood also recognizes the State budgetary issues identified by the Emergency Task Force on School Safety and Security which coupled with the demand for APOST certified qualified first responders creates stress on our law enforcement departments. This can and does lead to full-time staffing issues for both campus locations,” the statement continued.
Many critics also believe that this is a violation of the constitution, because it is a merger between the church and the state. Considering that police enforcement is a job that is reserved for the government, a church controlling a police force would be kind of like a church controlling a part of the government.
Inside of church. Photo Credit: Crosswalk
Alabama’s governor Kay Ivey has been in the national media spotlight for past several months, due to another piece of controversial legislation in the state. This May, Kay Ivey found herself at the center of a national debate on abortion, after signing one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.
The legislation, called House Bill 314, “Human Life Protection Act,” bans all abortions in the state except when “abortion is necessary in order to prevent a serious health risk” to the woman. The bill will reclassify abortion as a Class A felony, which will be punishable by up to 99 years in prison for doctors who carry out the procedure.
Many people are expecting the abortion bill and the church law enforcement bill to be struck down, but strange laws have been written into law in the state before. In the state of Alabama, certain types of sex offenders like pedophiles will now be chemically castrated by law before they are given parole. The legislation was signed into law this year, and will apply to all sex offenders who are convicted of crimes against children younger than 13.
For these offenders, chemicals will be used that will reduce their libido, and hopefully the likelihood of them repeating their crimes. Critics of the bill said that it was unconstitutional, claiming that it violates a person’s right to freedom from “cruel and unusual punishment.”
However, the 74-year-old governor shocked her constituents this year, by signing a bill that legalized medical marijuana in the state. Kay Ivey has been the governor of Alabama for just two years, since 2017.