Freethought Today · May 2017

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Church may form own police force?

Despite FFRF objection, Alabama Senate OKs bill

The Alabama Senate has voted to allow a church to form its own police force.

Lawmakers on April 12 voted 24-4 to allow Briarwood Presbyterian Church in a Birmingham suburb to establish a law enforcement department. The measure now goes to the House, and if it passes there, as expected, it will go to Gov. Kay Ivey for her signature.

The church says it needs its own police officers to keep its school and 4,000-person congregation safe.

Critics of the bill argue that a police department that reports to church officials could be used to cover up crimes.

FFRF has notified Alabama Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee Chairman Allen Treadaway and other members of the major problems with the bill.

"Our Founders sought to move away from this violence by relegating government and religion to separate spheres," FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote. "Authorizing a church police force is precisely the unconstitutional unification of religious zeal and secular power they sought to avoid."

The state has given a few private universities the authority to have a police force, but never a church or non-school entity.

Experts have said such a police department would be unprecedented in the United States.

"The Alabama Statehouse is hurtling down an extremely slippery slope," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "A constitutional wreck is in the offing unless it changes course."

The ACLU of Alabama also urged lawmakers to vote no to the Briarwood police force.

"Vesting state police powers in a church police force would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment," Randall Marshall, the ACLU's acting executive director, wrote in a memo. "These bills unnecessarily carve out special programs for religious organizations and inextricably intertwine state authority and power with church operations."

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