The Associated Press reports:
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would authorize Briarwood Presbyterian Church to employ its own police force. The bill now moves to the Alabama Senate.
A House committee has approved a similar bill, but the proposal has not yet gotten a floor vote.
The Birmingham-area congregation of 4,000 wants to create a police department to protect its church and school.
Church administrator Matt Moore told the committee that the Sandy Hook school shooting “changed everything” in terms of concerns about security.
Experts say a church with its own police department would be unprecedented in the U.S.
Critics worry embarrassing crimes like the sexual abuse of children and illegal drug use would be covered up by a police force loyal to the church rather than the law.
Richard E. Levy, a constitutional law professor at Kansas University, said:
It’s making the church take the role of the government. I would expect that if the law is enacted it would not be very long before it is challenged.
Indeed, it seems certain that a church-only police force raises constitutional questions that would and should be subject to immediate legal challenge.
Writing for the The Anniston Star, Tim Lockette reports:
Similar bills have failed in earlier years. Critics said those bill would have violated church-state separation, while creating a police force that isn’t answerable to elected officials. Senators on Wednesday didn’t bring up the church-state issue explicitly, but did question the accountability of the police force.
Expressing some concern, Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, said:
I don’t want this to be a little secret group that, when something happens, it gets covered up.
Nobody expects the Alabama Inquisition!