The state of Alabama is currently standing at the precipice of the proverbial slippery slope into some very murky constitutional waters.
While this writer doesn’t presume to project sinister intent onto the leadership of Briarwood Presbyterian Church, it’s also impossible to deny that this is a clear example of religion trying to bridge that tenuous wall that (ideally) exists between the church and the state. Religious right-wingers are constantly pushing legislation that seeks to establish their own ideologies as mandates, thwarting progress that has been made in areas as disparate as a woman’s right to her own bodily autonomy and whether or not creationism (in the guise of “intelligent design”) should be taught in public schools as a valid alternative to evolution.
Now, a sizable church wants its own police force and is asking legislators for permission. Should we be nervous?
The stated intent of the bill as drafted by attorney Eric Johnston would be to assure that a police officer could be on duty at the church and its affiliated school in a full-time capacity. “It would only be for patrolling the campuses, north and south,” according to Johnston. “There wouldn’t be any patrolling of neighborhoods.”
That isn’t what is alarming in and of itself; rather, the legal precedents set by a religious organization requesting its own police force could have far-reaching ramifications.
Rep. Connie Rowe (R- Jasper) is a former police chief. She supports allowing Briarwood to create its own force.
“They will conduct their own investigations,” explained Rowe. “They will conduct their own security. They will make their own arrests and instead of calling on the local law enforcement agency to take over the particular situation they’re trying to control, they will do that themselves. All they will utilize from their other law enforcement agencies is their lock up facilities.”
Rowe says she would also consider requests from other churches to do the same.
Again, I’m not suggesting that Briarwood is intending to form its own theocratic SWAT team to snipe abortion clinics. However, they are asking for police who would operate under church jurisdiction, and once one church gets its own police department, it’s only a matter of time before other churches are requesting their own.
There are numerous unanswered questions regarding this story.
- Would the police officers be required to sign statements of faith, as many employees of religious organizations are made to do?
- What conflict of church and state would that constitute? Church leaders, when questioned, have also denied that a private police force would assist in covering up church scandals. While that might indeed be the case for Briarwood, all it takes is a simple Google search to find numerous cases of wrongdoing and misconduct that church leaders have conspired to conceal.
One also must consider the fact that if this were a large mosque that was requesting its own police force to protect its members, it would be soundly rejected in spite of the surging wave of anti-Muslim hate crimes that have been perpetrated in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. What if the Satanic Temple wanted one? Would it be fair to deny it to them if one is granted for a Christian church? Would it be legal to deny it?
Conservative lawmakers want to consider the box they’re opening, because even they might not like what eventually comes out of it.