Jesus asked his followers to buy swords during his speech at the Last Supper, but such symbolism may soon be replaced with real weapons at a church in Alabama. The first steps have been taken that could lead to the creation of a private police force at Briarwood Presbyterian Church, located in Birmingham.
The plan received overwhelming support by lawmakers, with 24 in favor and only four against, in a recent vote by the Alabama State Senate. Debate on a similar bill has begun in the state’s House of Representatives. The vote has helped revive an issue that was met with resistance from a previous governor.
If created, the Briarwood police would have the same legal authority as other law enforcement officers, although their patrol duties would be limited in terms of the area served. In addition to church property, some supporters of the plan would like to see the jurisdiction of the force extended to schools that are associated with the church and which serve approximately 2,000 students.
The plan grew out of public concern for the safety of educational facilities that was itself related to the killing of 26 students and faculty members at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Connecticut, which occurred in 2012. Legislation providing for the presence of security personnel at schools in Alabama had been approved in 2015, only to be vetoed by Gov. Robert Bentley. His replacement, Gov. Kay Ivey, has yet to express either support or opposition to the plan. An opponent of it has expressed concern about the issue of oversight, noting that the private officers would report directly to the church and not to any government entity. Other critics have questioned whether such a service is even necessary.
The use of in-house police forces at church-sponsored institutions is not a novelty, with such services currently available at Brigham Young University, in Utah, and at Baylor University, located in Texas. Smaller schools and individual churches had previously relied on local police or security guards for protection, with Alabama law allowing for the use of private security personnel in such capacities. Despite significant legislative support throughout the American South to allow for the individual possession of firearms in houses of worship, the idea has faced opposition from religious leaders, some of whom have posted “no guns” signs outside of their churches.