On Tuesday, the Alabama Senate voted to allow anti-gay Briarwood Presbyterian church in Birmingham to set up its own police force.
State senators voted 24-4 in favor of the bill.
The bill, SB193, was introduced by Senator Jabo T. Waggoner, who told NPR, “It was their decision, and if they wanted to have their own police force, you know, I don’t see any reason why they can’t. It’s not unusual.”
Only, it is pretty unusual in the United States. Universities sometimes have their own police forces, but not religious institutions.
Still, the bill states that every police officer appointed by the church “shall be certified by the Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission and shall meet all of its requirements, including continuing education.”
The Guardian writes:
The church says it needs its own police officers to keep its school as well as its more than 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.
As critics have noted, religious institutions don’t do a great job of dealing with offenses committed by their members — particularly when the offense is sexual in nature. The list of churches that have covered up sexual violence committed by clergy is a long one: the scandals around Josh Duggar, the Catholic Church and that one pastor who said Orlando’s shooting victims “deserved it” are just a few examples.
There are other problems with this as well. Isn’t this a violation of the separation of Church and State, somehow? What if the church’s police officers start to enforce moral or religious codes instead of legal ones?
This would hit LGBTQ members of the community particularly hard. Briarwood Presbyterian is deeply homophobic. In 2013, the church voted to sever ties with the Boy Scouts of America for letting in openly gay scouts.
But the bill hasn’t become a law yet. First, it has to go to the Alabama House of Representatives and get approval from the governor.