Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has signed legislation permitting Briarwood Presbyterian Church to establish its own police force for its church and school campuses.
The law, approved two weeks ago allows the Birmingham-based church to set up a private law enforcement department to make arrests when crimes are committed on its properties.
Church officials said they need their own police force to protect its 4,100 members, 2,000 students and two campuses in neighboring Jefferson and Shelby counties, especially in light of armed attacks on schools and churches.
Critics said the mega-church already has private security and under the new law it would gain state authority that could be abused if officers are answerable only to church officials, according to NPR.
The police will have the same powers as regular police.
Randall Marshall, the executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, says the law could allow the church to cover-up criminal activity that occurs on its campuses. He expects the law to be challenged in the courts for unconstitutionally granting government power to a religious institution.
Church officials said current Alabama state law “allows certain educational institutions to appoint and employ one or more suitable persons to act as police officers to keep off intruders and prevent trespass upon the institution property,” according to a statement made to WBRC in Birmingham.
“We are grateful to the governor and our elected officials for approving our request to be added to the existing Alabama” law, the statement concluded.
The new policy will go into effect in the fall.