A rainbow appears behind Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Ala., in 2013. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Alabama Senate gives megachurch the right to form its own police force

(RNS) An Alabama Presbyterian church may soon become the first in the nation to form its own police force, invested by the state with the rights of "regular" police.

Officials at Briarwood Presbyterian Church, which belongs to the smaller and more conservative of the nation's two major branches of the denomination, say their church, with 4,100 congregants and a 2,000-student school, needs the protection of a church-run police force.

Hiring local police, as many congregations do, isn't the best option for Briarwood, they say, because it often needs more officers than local departments can provide. They also cite as a cautionary tale the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, in which a gunman fatally shot 20 first-graders and six staff members in a Connecticut public school.

"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 who so heroically and effectively serve their communities," they said in a statement.

The state Senate voted 24-4 Tuesday (April 11) to give Briarwood, located 10 miles south of downtown Birmingham, permission to hire its own police. The measure now goes to the House, and if it passes there as expected, it will go to Gov. Kay Ivey for her signature. Ivey, who was sworn in this week after the sudden resignation of Robert Bentley, did not immediately return calls Thursday about the Briarwood bill.

The bill's critics, including the state's branch of the ACLU, fault the church and the Senate for blurring the line separating church and state and call the bill an affront to the Constitution's establishment clause that would not hold up if challenged.

"The proposal to authorize Briarwood Presbyterian Church to form its own police force places a core governmental function, with all the powers of the state, into the hands or a religious institution to exercise at its discretion with no governmental oversight," said Randall C. Marshall, legal director of the ACLU of Alabama.

"It also singles out one particular church out of the thousands of churches, synagogues, mosques, and other religious entities in Alabama that may have similar concerns, thereby favoring one specific religious group," Marshall said.

The church, however, likens its proposed police force to those of several Alabama colleges and universities, which are also state-sanctioned.

The bill has attracted the attention of Muslim comedian and commentator Dean Obeidallah, who notes the death threats sent to Alabama mosques recently, and the state's ban of shariah, or Islamic law — a measure opponents called unnecessary and Islamophobic.

Churches have a right to be safe, Obeidallah wrote. "But do you think if Muslims in Alabama asked to create their own police force to protect their mosque we would see the GOP members of the Alabama Legislature be as supportive as they are to the Briarwood church?"


  1. “Hiring local police, as many congregations do, isn’t the best option for Briarwood, they say, because it often needs more officers than local departments can provide.”

    Often? What on earth is going on at this church that they need a private police force? I thought conservative Christians all got their morals directly from god, and could pray away anything.

  2. The perspective which this article offers is historically inaccurate and propounds liberal myths. George Mason was a delegate (from Virginia) to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. He had written the Bill of
    Rights of the 1776 Virginia Constitution, and he proposed that a similar bill of rights be added to the Constitution. His idea was rejected, even by James Madison. However, when the Constitution was completed, Mason sprang into action, sending to each of the states a copy of his newly proposed bill of rights.

    When the ratifying conventions of the various states convened, some of them demanded a promise
    that Mason’s new bill of rights be debated before the new Congress. James Madison was selected by Virginia to present this demand for rights to the First Congress, First Session.

    On June 8, 1789, Madison made this presentation to the House of Representatives, including a call for
    securing the right of religious freedom of American citizens in the following form: “The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be
    established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext, infringed.”


    On August 15, 1789, the House of Representatives debated this religious freedom amendment. Madison explained this amendment: “He believed that the people feared one sect might obtain a pre-eminence, or two combine together, and establish a religion to which they would compel others to
    conform.” However, this form of the amendment contained the word “national” which was despised by the antifederalists, so the exact form Madison desired was rejected.


    Eventually, this amendment was written in a condensed version that took the form of two clauses,
    the Establishment clause and the Free Exercise clause: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”.

    The ideas expressed by the ACLU and the liberal Cornell opinion (see link) have no historical
    validity; they have nothing to do with the original intent of our Constitution’s First Amendment religion clauses.

  3. A Church with its own Police force? Who is the Chief? ? ⛪️ ? ? ?
    And here I thought that’s what security guards are for. ?⭐️ ? ? ?
    It certainly has a real art’of’ficial government ring to it.? ☕️? ? ?
    I guess it’s the Bama-blest way to enforce Church Law. ⚠️ ? ? ? ⁉️

  4. Sorry dishonest Dominionist psuedoclairvoyant. But if one wanted to divine legislative intent of the Constitution as the founders intended one goes to The Federalist Papers. The volumes written specifically to expound on such intents and meanings to the non lawyer lay public.

    Any reading of the establishment clause which falls short of separation of church and state defeats the entire notion of religious freedom. One cannot protect free exercise of religion if all faiths unless government actively avoids entanglement with religion. The founders were entirely aware that favoritism or entanglement of any given faith by government directly leads to sectarian discrimination.

    You are a revisionist who has no appreciation or respect for religious freedom. You are clearly stumping for systematic sectarian discrimination.

  5. Guess what would happen if a mosque asked for the same thing? We know the answer to that already.

    This whole thing is Christian Sharia.

    There is no legitimate government interest in granting church security powers of police. There is no legitimate purpose in using taxpayer money to protect private property in such a fashion. Why couldn’t the church hire it’s own security using their own funds?

    Especially in this day and age where accountability by our duly and legally authorized police forces are in grave question.

  6. Pff. Too bad the church isn’t even being honest about its rationale: they simply want to create a “Christian nation” within and alongside of the larger nation, complete with all the functions and institutions of the state. I mean, sure, they really think they’re a possible target of violence, that’s what persecution complexes will do to you, make you paranoid. But this isn’t just a reaction to imagined threats. It’s a response to their failure to use the existing state to impose their so-called Christianity on all aspects of society. Not so much “Dominionism” then as “DIYism” or “opting-out.”

  7. This is a terrible idea. Wait until different faiths get their own private militias (“police forces”) and they start fighting each other.

  8. I wish that black AME Church in South Carolina had put together its own police force before Dylann Roof got there.

    Including a couple of biblically-supportive, pastoral-counseling SWATs, just to make everything clear.

  9. I have to smile when people who have never read the Federalist Papers, like Larry-Spud, cite the Federalist Papers.

    The Federalist Papers did not discuss the 1st Amendment at all because the 1st Amendment did not exist when the FP was published.

    None of the FP’s essays had much to say about religious freedom because the Constitution delegated to the federal government no power to legislate on the subject of religion at all and Madison/Hamilton/Jay (the FP’s authors) considered that in and of itself to be sufficient protection of religious liberty. When Madison discussed establishment of religion elsewhere, however, he always discussed it in terms of financial support: “…the lapse of time now more than 50 years since the legal support of Religion was withdrawn sufficiently prove that it does not need the support of Govt. and it will scarcely be contended that Government has suffered by the exemption of Religion from its cognizance, or its pecuniary aid.” Madison to Rev. Adams, 1832.

    As for separation of church and state, this phrase is not in the constitution nor was it coined or used by any of the Constitution’s framers. Those who cite it are usually referring to Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists (although that was not its first appearance), but the Letter in its entirety does not help the modern secularist’s case, for Jefferson was not a framer and even it he were, it clearly demonstrates Jefferson’s understanding of religion as a state rather than federal matter. As do his other writings, such as his 1808 letter to the Rev. Samuel MIller: “I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline or practices. Clearly, no power to prescribe any religious exercise, or to assume authority in religious discipline, has been delegated to the general government. It must then rest with the States….In matters of religion I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the Constitution independent of the powers of the General Government. I have therefore undertaken, on no occasion, to prescribe the religious exercise suited to it, but have left them, as the Constitution found them, under the direction and discipline of state and church authorities.”

    Of course, as our esteemed citer of the Federalist Papers below has been known to point out on select topics (meaning, where the framers’ intent doesn’t help his case), “outdated 18th century political theory” and the framers’ intent “don’t matter.” In which case one would wonder why he would cite the FP and the despised opinions of its authors at all…

  10. This does not seem to be the best idea. Though not a particular fan of the extreme take on the “separation of church and state” so popular here, this development is definitely problematic. There is no shortage of well qualified security professionals who could provide the patrol services the church deems necessary without going through the bureaucratic nightmare that official state establishment would entail. The day this is approved is the day the ACLU will file suit. The church would be better off not wasting their resources on defending this awkward hybrid.

  11. In this case I agree with you. Totally not worth the trouble.

  12. I think everyone here (me too) would agree that a security force is a more appropriate move than a police force.

    But that doesn’t address everything. The Charleston tragedy suggests that Unarmed = Dead, so that means armed security, which (1) would mean *guns in church*, and also (2) paying tons of $$$ that lots of churches don’t have.

    I have no solutions, (except keep praying for safety). Meanwhile most churches are NOT saying their moves. I think there’s some very unspoken Concealed Carry.

  13. Re “But that doesn’t address everything.” and “I have no solutions”:
    I share your concerns, floydlee. I hope that you are joined in your prayers for safety by ever-increasing numbers of believers of all faiths across the country and all over the world. And I hope that ever-increasing numbers of us with even the most polarized political, cultural, and spiritual positions will soon become so troubled by such violence and inhumanity that we will individually and collectively choose to set aside and restrain our differences enough to let us come together and solve problems like this — because all of us share these problems; all of us are greatly disturbed by these problems; all of us need to solve these problems; and all of us NEED EACH OTHER to solve these problems.

  14. The Charleston incident is one that occurs so rarely that going the security force or police guard is an overreaction.

    Armed citizens? Really? With no formal training and unknown gun skills it promises to be a melee if good Samaritans get involved.

  15. Actually, if I had to guess about it, I’d say the Charleston church is NOW one of those churches where it would be extremely unwise for a visitor to pull out a gun during services or Bible classes, even if no security is present.

    It’s a tough, emotional issue. Nobody (very very few) wants guns in church, or even want to talk about it.

    I suspect that many congregations, especially those that have experienced previous “incidents” or know of churches who have done so, are holding their cards close to the vest — but not all the cards may be harmless.

  16. Agreed. But for now, nobody really has any solutions on this one, nor will they anytime soon. (And honestly? The people of Briarwood Church are just trying to do what works for them. A seriously-less-than-perfect solution, but that’s what ALL churches are facing, no matter what security policies they choose.)

  17. Now you know why a predominately white mega church asking for its own taxpayer supported government security forces for itself is so silly.

    Why should it have consideration and not all the black churches, synagogues and mosques which receive numerous and regular threats be ignored?

    Oh right Alabama Republicans. Racist Dominionist trash.

  18. Your pointless useless snark is duly noted. As is the fictional divination of the intentions of the founders long past with unattributed quotemining.

    But underneath all that cut and paste and Dominionist fiction (separation of church and state came from Roger Williams a century before Jefferson) is still an unanswered question.

    How does one protect free exercise of religion without separation of church and state?

    The answer is simple. One can’t.

    It is clear neither you nor Aaron have any respect for religious freedom. What you seek is special privilege on account of your faith.

  19. Everything I pasted was from the writings of Madison and Jefferson themselves. That you don’t appear to know that even further demonstrates your own lack of background.

    “How does one protect free exercise of religion without separation of church and state?” Evidently Jefferson believed you do it by keeping out of the states’ business where the constitution gives you no authority otherwise. As in, “Would like to help, Danbury Baptists, but buzz off.”

  20. “Buzz off?” I laughed because I couldn’t help it. Clearly though, you have the better argument.

  21. Re: “Hiring local police, as many congregations do, isn’t the best option for Briarwood, they say, because it often needs more officers than local departments can provide.” 

    Just how big is this congregation? Does it really draw in multiple times its town’s population, during each service? Why do I doubt it does? But even if it did, why isn’t it possible for the local police force to hire auxiliary officers, on a part-time basis, just to cover those services? 

    There’s too much about this that hasn’t been explained, to consider this anything other than an overt example of Christianist militancy. 

  22. Jefferson and many of our founders were wrong on a number of issues. Most notably leaving civil liberties issues in the hands of the states. The resolution to that issue was a bit nasty. Thank you for confirming that originalist claptrap is geared towards avoiding 14th Amendment issues.

    Of course you know that separation of church and state is essential to religious freedom. Hence your avoidance of that point in your response.

  23. The 14th had a very specific aim and purpose, according to IT’S framers. Funny how all the liberal “living constitution” claptrap we hear on THAT subject is about about avoiding THAT intent because we want to mangle it into nonsense that the people NEVER debated nor voted upon.

    Scalia knew exactly what the 14th Amendnent was supposed to accomplish, and hopefully so does his replacement. And hopefully so does the future replacement of the all-but-treasonous snoring woman on the SCOTUS who thinks the constitution she swore to uphold and defend is “outdated.”

  24. Yep, the specific aim of taking civil rights out if the hands states and of defining citizenship. All that liberal claptrap about a living constitution was intended by founders. As evidenced by the choice of language employed and the wide room for interpretation.

    Scalia was never consistent even with his own rulings and ideas. It was always about what got him to a given conservative partisan and reactionary Christian view. His passing is not missed by yours truly. Replacing him with another wingnut doesn’t change a whole lot.

    Anyway, this is all terribly tangential to the issue at hand. I made my point.

  25. No need for a church police force – just arm your congregants. Especially, the ushers.

  26. “All that liberal claptrap about a living constitution was intended by founders. “. That’s nonsense. The phrase was never even heard of until the 1920s. The founders built flexibility into the constitution in the form of the amendment process. Not judicial legislation. Madison even stated specifically that the 9th Anendment was intended as a safeguard against “latitude of interpretation” that you are claiming they actually wanted. Pathetic.

    “Yep, the specific aim of taking civil rights out if the hands states and of defining citizenship” The framers of the 14th stated that the 14th was not intended to change ANY relations between a citizen and his government — only to extend them to former slaves. THAT is what Scalia knew– and so do the others; they just don’t like it.

  27. Well you are certainly entitled to your opinion. You have always felt entitled to your own facts. I am sure ultimately you had a point to make on the subject. Whatever it was, I bet it was surely interesting. 🙂

  28. They are likely talking about assistance with traffic control in that quotation.

  29. Then They don’t need fully trained peace officers.

  30. If that is, in fact, the basis for their complaint, then I agree with you. (I really hope that’s the basis for their complaint!)

  31. Well, I suppose it’s possible that they have some criminal running a pizza parlor in their basement, if you know what I mean.

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