Church-Run Police Force? It May Happen in Alabama

Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Alabama is one step closer to getting its own police force to protect its church and affiliated school, Briarwood Christian School.  Apparently threatening children with hell doesn’t have quite the effect it used to. Now they need guys with guns.  And hiring security guards to protect the grounds, like every other large business does, isn’t quite Bible Belt-y enough.  Hee Haw.

On Wednesday, the Alabama State Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would allow the church to employ its own police force to protect its congregation of 4,000 members along with their school.  A House committee also approved the bill, and the next step would be to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

I know what you’re thinking. That school looks straight-up dangerous!

The bill was drafted by attorney Eric Johnston, who believes it will pass the House and Senate and be signed into law by the governor, Robert Bentley. And he has good reason to believe that.  The same bill passed last year but got to the governor too late to be signed.

The proposed legislation is modeled after similar laws that allow colleges to employ their own police forces, and since Briarwood is a rather large organization consisting of a church, seminary, and school, the administrators believe they’ll be successful in obtaining their own police.

Opponents of the bill say this opens the door for a biased police force to side with the church instead of the law.  Church administrator Matt Moore says that the bill was inspired by the Sandy Hook shooting (even thought it was over 4 years ago).  Some believe the bill is an effort to keep dirty laundry in-house — the Briarwood Christian School was involved in a drug bust in 2015 that was, according to AL.com, “shrouded in secrecy.”  The latter seems more likely than the former, considering the timing of the initial request for an internal police force.

The whole thing stinks.  First, we’re wading in some muddy waters here, with a church (or any partisan organization) being in charge of a police force.  What laws are they sworn to uphold?  The church’s laws? “God’s Law?” (Shit, I hope not.) The actual law? And who makes the decision of when the church police calls in the real police to aid in arrest or investigation? Church administrators? Oh hell no. I think we’re all well aware of the history involving the brass of religious organizations covering up their own misconduct.

If we’re really concerned about protection, law, and justice, then the only way to accomplish that is with impartiality.  A police force whose paychecks are signed by Briarwood would not only remove that impartiality, but also could introduce potential for unlawful directives to be carried out by the church’s mini-infantry.

This is a bad idea.

[Originally published at Secular Voices on March 16, 2017]

Kevin Davis is the Founder and Managing Director of SecularVoices.org, and the author of Understanding an Atheist: A Practical Guide to Relating to Nonbelievers, a book aimed at improving relationships between the religious and their atheist loved ones.
He’s most recently known for being co-founder and Executive Director for Young Skeptics, an elementary-level after-school program for kids. Young Skeptics was launched in January 2015 as an alternative to the controversial Good News Club, an organization operating in public schools that evangelizes children and spreads fundamentalist Christian doctrine focused on shaming children for their sins.

His writing has been featured or mentioned on CNN, Huffington Post, Salon, RichardDawkins.net, Patheos, and many others.

You can find Kevin on Twitter (@SecularVoices) and Facebook.

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