Alabama's Briarwood Presbyterian Church already has more than 4,000 members, two private schools, and its own radio station. And if administrators have their way, the wealthy congregation could soon add something that no other American church has: its own police force. Briarwood has asked the state legislature for permission to set up a private law enforcement department to watch over its flock and schools, the AP reports. But a church-only police force raises constitutional questions that are ripe for a legal challenge, and opponents worry crimes could be covered up by the church. Experts believe a church with its own police department would be unprecedented in the US.
The Birmingham church hires off-duty police officers from nearby jurisdictions to cover its events, but it says there often are not enough officers available to help. Church officials also worry about mass shootings. The bill was introduced by Republican Rep. Arnold Mooney, whose wife and daughter work at Briarwood Christian School. All three of his children graduated from Briarwood schools. Twenty-one of Mooney's colleagues in the Republican-controlled House support his bill. The bill was first proposed after students at Briarwood's high school were arrested in a drug bust in early 2015. While church administrators deny the raid was a catalyst for the bill, critics worry that similar instances could go unreported if the church had its own police.