A bill designed to allow a church to have its own police force is moving forward. Alabama's Senate judiciary panel has passed a measure that would let Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham create the force, reports NBC News. The force would coordinate with local police to protect the 4,100-member church, which has 2,000 students and teachers at two K-12 schools and a seminary on its sprawling campus, says the church's administrator. He cited the recent attacks on churches and schools as the motivation for the move, while a concerned member tells the AP, "Anyone can wander in here unchallenged at any time." The bill now moves on to the full Senate.
"Officer presence is the No. 1 line of defense," says longtime Republican Rep. Arnold Mooney, who introduced the bill and whose wife and daughter work at Briarwood Christian School. The ACLU of Alabama is among those opposing the bill on constitutional grounds, along with another that would allow churches in the state to appoint armed congregants to provide security with legal protections: "These bills unnecessarily carve out special programs for religious organizations and inextricably intertwine state authority and power with church operations." The AP notes that the police-force bill passed the Legislature last year, but Gov. Robert Bentley did not sign it. Bentley has not said what he would do this year. (Read more Alabama stories.)