Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) signed a law this week allowing a Birmingham megachurch to form its own private police force to protect its affiliated school campuses.
The 4,000-member Briarwood Presbyterian Church has been authorized to hire a security force "charged with all the duties and invested with all the powers of police officers, including the power of arrest for unlawful acts committed on" the property of its two campuses for K-12 Briarwood Christian School. Any employed officers would be trained to carry and use a nonlethal weapon.
According to NBC News, the church has been pushing for legislative approval to ramp up security for its 2,000 students after being frightened by the 2012 mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Church leaders argue that they already pay for private security and say it would be cheaper for them to just hire their own full-time officers.
Critics of the approved legislation claim it is dangerous. The Associated Press reported that Alabama ACLU executive director Randall Marshall "says the law could allow the church to cover-up criminal activity that occurs on its campuses" and believes it will be challenged in court "for unconstitutionally granting government power to a religious institution."
The Root's Michael Harriot wrote that when the Legislature passed a previous version of the bill two years ago, "politicians let the bill die amid public outcry over the separation of church and state, the congregation's history of racism and its public homophobia."
But as AL.com's Ian Hoppe explained in 2017, "Some people are worried that this is going to be an armed militia enforcing the Bible. It's most certainly not that. The church maintains that it's just two guys in a car doing security. It's just a little more complicated than that."
The law would add the church's schools to an existing list of colleges and universities — including at least one private, Christian institution — in Alabama who have had the right to employ its own campus police forces for decades.
The same legislation signed by Ivey this week also added the right for Madison Academy, a Church of Christ-affiliated school, to employ officers to protect its 850 students, AL.com reported.
The new law is slated to go into effect this fall.