- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Alabama Senate voted Tuesday in favor of letting a Birmingham megachurch establish its own police force, setting the stage for a House vote next week and a likely legal showdown.

Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham claims it needs its own law enforcement agency to ensure its congregation is kept safe. The state Senate Judiciary Committee gave its proposal the go-ahead last week and forwarded its request to the full Senate where it overwhelmingly passed Tuesday by a 24-4 vote.

“The sole purpose of this proposed legislation is to provide a safe environment for the church, its members, students and guests,” church administrator Matt Moore said previously.

Over 4,000 worshippers regularly congregate at Briarwood Presbyterian, in addition to roughly 2,000 students and teachers who attend the church’s k-12 school and theological seminary, NBC News reported.

“After the shooting at Sandy Hook and in the wake of similar assaults at churches and schools, Briarwood recognized the need to provide qualified first responders to coordinate with local law enforcement,” Mr. Moore told the network last month, referring to the 2012 elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.

Alabama law “provides for the employment of one or more persons to act as police officers at colleges and other private educational institutions,” Mr. Moore said.

If the Senate bill approved Tuesday gains approval from the state House and governor, then Briarwood Presbyterian is expected to be perhaps the first church in the country to boast its own police force, paving the way for the planned hiring of one or more persons to “protect the safety and integrity of the church and its ministries,” according to its language.

“Persons employed as police officers pursuant to this section shall be charged with all of the duties and invested with all of the powers of law enforcement officers in this state,” reads the bill, SB 193.

Already, however, critics claim the effort defies the U.S. Constitution clause that separates church from state.

“It’s our view this would plainly be unconstitutional,” Randall Marshall, the acting executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, told NBC News previously.

“Vesting state police powers in a church police force violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” Mr. Marshall added in a letter to the Senate.

“These bills unnecessarily carve out special programs for religious organizations and inextricably intertwine state authority and power with church operations.”

The Alabama House is slated to consider a similar bill next Tuesday, The Associated Press reported.

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