Should a Church Have a Police Force?

As the old hymn goes, “Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war.” But thankfully, the idea of an explicitly militarized Christian church has been mostly nonexistent in the United States, as the church remains firmly separated from those who enforce the law. Or it was, until Alabama got involved.

Now the Alabama state senate is in the process of hearing a bill that would allow Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama to form its own police force — a move that could set a dangerous precedent with the potential to unravel the separation of church and state.

“The church says it needs its own police officers to keep its school as well as its more than 4,000 person congregation safe,” reports the Associated Press. “Critics of the bill argue that a police department that reports to church officials could be used to cover up crimes. The state has given a few private universities the authority to have a police force, but never a church or non-school entity.”

Briarwood claims that it needs its own specialized, personal police force to protect its church, school and seminary, pointing to school violence incidents as an impetus for the additional security.

Headed by Pastor Harry Reeder, the 4,100-member church is pushing for its own police force because it is located some 10 miles south of downtown Birmingham and is home to a K-12 school and a theological seminary with 2,000 students and teachers,” reports NBC News. “Frightened by the 2012 massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and by ‘similar assaults at churches and schools,’ the church got the backing of Senate Majority Leader J.T. “Jabo” Waggoner who sponsored the bill. The powerful Republican represents the area.”

The church campus is already being patrolled by local cops, but those police are accountable to their counties, not a church that pays their salaries.

It’s that concern over who the police answer to — as well as the likely use of taxpayer resources, despite the fact that the church would be covering payroll — that has the ACLU calling the idea utterly unconstitutional.

“Vesting state police powers in a church police force violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” stated ACLU Acting Executive Director Randall Marshall, according to Guns.com. “These bills unnecessarily carve out special programs for religious organizations and inextricably intertwine state authority and power with church operations.”

Still, if any place was to toy with the idea of a church police force, Alabama seems ripe for it. After all, this is the land of former Justice Roy “Ten Commandments” Moore.

The state aims to incorporate a full abortion ban into its constitution, lets parents use taxpayer-funded vouchers for religious schools and allows judges to overrule juries in order to put a criminal to death. One town even let criminals choose between jail or attending Christian – and only Christian – church services, and former Justice Moore has vocally advocated for a Christian theocracy.

Briarwood’s request for a personal police force is problematic for a number of reasons, but perhaps the most obvious is that lawmakers would likely refuse to consider the request if it came from a mosque, rather than an evangelical mega church.

“You know this would never be getting a green light from Alabama politicians if it were a mosque asking to create the same sort of police force,” writes Hemat Mehta at Patheos. “But remember: In this country, Christians are always allowed to bend the rules in their favor.”

The bill has already passed the Senate and will be heard by the House on April 18. Meanwhile, legislation to pass meaningful gun reform that could save lives in Birmingham by limiting carry, creating waiting periods, requiring mental health evaluations and otherwise tightening regulations around firearms has continued to stall in the legislature.

Apparently the Alabama legislature thinks that arming churches is the better response to gun violence.

Photo Credit: Daniel Tseng/Unsplash

87 comments

Marie W
Marie W2 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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William Eaves
William Eaves5 months ago

Horrendous

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Sarah H
Sarah Hill6 months ago

Well, this would free up cops to do other things.

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Peggy B
Peggy B7 months ago

I think it's time churches lose their tax exempt status.

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Telica R
Telica R7 months ago

Thanks for sharing!

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Amanda M
Amanda M7 months ago

UGH, this just brings to mind images of the Angels and the Eyes in "The Handmaid's Tale!" Worse, it's easy to see this kind of thing being abused by the church heads scapegoating possible dissenters and people thinking of leaving the church-sort of "1984" with a Christian twist. WAY too cult-like for my taste! *shudder*

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Carl R
Carl R7 months ago

Thanks!!!

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Carl R
Carl R7 months ago

Thanks!!!

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Jennifer H
Jennifer H7 months ago

Isn't this the type of thing that they complain about the "Scientology" group? Religious fanatics already have too much power. This is scary that it is being contemplated.

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Clare O
Clare O'Beara7 months ago

Some strange attitudes. First, no, a church should not have a police force, but any place or group can hire or elect security guards, so that is what they should do if they feel the need. Second, sounds like someone with a chip on his shoulder saying that a mosque could not do this in that country. Well, mosques around the world are most at danger from Muslims, who regularly kill worshippers who worship in a sightly different way. Like over a hundred Army personnel killed while worshipping recently, by presumably devout Muslims. So clearly mosques should ban all Muslims from the vicinity if they want to avoid danger. Third, Christians are treated differently in a Christian country to Muslims? Well, try opening a Christian church in good old Saudi Arabia and see how far you get. If you don't like the way a country treats you, maybe you should go to a country where you are in the majority, not a country that doesn't have any connection with you.

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