Alabama Governor quietly signs law allowing Briarwood Presbyterian Mega-Church to have its own police force

What could possibly go wrong?

by Leonardo Blair Christian Post edited by O Society June 22, 2019

After several years of seeking to establish a private police force to protect its church and school campuses, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed legislation allowing the Briarwood Presbyterian Church to do just that despite objections from critics.

The Associated Press reported Ivey approved the legislation some two week ago.

In a statement on the approval, Briarwood said despite having a great relationship with local law enforcement agencies, establishing a private police force had become necessary because the state was unable to provide adequate security for the approximately 2,000 students and faculty of Briarwood Christian School located on two campuses in unincorporated Jefferson and Shelby County due to budget cuts.

“Briarwood also recognizes the state budgetary issues identified by the Emergency Task Force on School Safety and Security which coupled with the demand for APOST certified qualified first responders creates stress on our law enforcement departments. This can and does lead to full-time staffing issues for both campus locations,” the church said.

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“Alabama Code 16-22 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. The institutions currently provided the protection under this statute include a number that have less students than does Briarwood Christian School. We are grateful to the governor and our elected officials for approving our request to be added to the existing Alabama Code 16-22,” the church added.

The ACLU of Alabama argues, however, that the move by Briarwood to establish its own police force is a violation of the Establishment Clause that the church has been pursuing since 2015.

“These attempts to undermine the separation of church and state are a threat to our freedom of religion and a violation of the Establishment Clause. For that reason, we will continue to fight any plans to create a state-sanctioned, church-operated police force,” the organization said in 2017.

Randall Marshall, the executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, told the AP that the law could allow the church to cover-up criminal activity that occurs on its campuses and expects it to be challenged in courts for unconstitutionally granting government power to a religious institution.

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Matthew Moore, Briarwood’s church administrator, told ABC 33/40 that they won’t be hiring their own officers immediately.

“This initiative will require significant planning and development of proper agreements, policies and operating procedures,” Moore said. “Not until we have a well-developed plan based on best law enforcement practices and following the model of other institutions that benefit from AL 16-22 will we proceed with hiring an APOST certified officer.”

He added that police officers in the agency they establish will be answerable only to the church.

“Line officers will report to supervisors and supervisors will report to the director of safety and security/chief of police,” Moore said. “The director/chief reports to the administrator/chief operating officer/dean/college president, who is then responsible for reporting to the governing body, ie: board of trustees, board of education or ruling elders.”

Judge John Carrol at Cumberland School of Law explained that Briarwood officers will have: “The power to arrest, the power to engage in hot pursuit, the power to use non-lethal force, those kinds of things.”

It will also allow the church to keep certain records such as financial records and internal investigations private. Other records, however, will have to be made public.

“Once he begins using the power the state law has conferred, the power to use non-lethal force, the power to arrest, that means any of those activities will have to be reported just as if he were or she were a police officer employed by a public entity,” Carrol explained.

Responding to transparency concerns, Moore said, “Briarwood intends to be fully transparent and cooperative with all applicable laws.”

A similar bill was proposed four years ago, but it was dropped by the Alabama legislature amid a public outcry over the Presbyterian Church in America’s racist history, as well as criticism that the bill was unconstitutional and violated the Establishment Clause’s separation of church and state. Briarwood Presbyterian is part of the PCA.

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Briarwood Presbyterian’s congregation is overwhelmingly white. Nearby Birmingham is two-thirds black.

The PCA is a conservative denomination that originated early 1970s Alabama. In 2016 it apologized for “racial sins” that included “the segregation of worshipers by race” as well as “the participation in and defense of white supremacist organizations,” among other things.

Alabama Quietly Passes Law Allowing Church With History of Racism and Homophobia to Form Its Own Police Force

Although the current PCA website attributes the split to PCUS’ “liberal theology,” the truth is the Southern congregations seceded from the larger PCUS after the PCUS decided that it would allow black and white parishioners to worship together.

And where did those church leaders meet to form this Confederate church?

Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Vestavia, Ala.

Since its founding, Briarwood has been notorious for continuing to root for everyone straight, white, and male. It does not allow women to have leadership roles as ministers or deacons and the church’s history is rife with racism and homophobia, including:

The legislation was first introduced by Sen. J.T. “Jabo” Waggoner, the 80-year-old powerbroker who has served in the Alabama Legislature since 1963 and hails from a family of powerful men.

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In April 2017, I wrote:

If you have ever seen the black-and-white footage of civil rights violence in Birmingham during the 1960s, you probably recognize the name of Police Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor as the man who sicced dogs on marchers, sprayed black children with fire hoses and beat nonviolent protesters with batons. While Connor was the face of segregation in Birmingham, the city was run by three men: Connor, Mayor Art Hanes and Public Works Commissioner J. T. Waggonerfather of “Jabo” Waggoner.

The younger (if 80 can ever be considered “young”) Waggoner does not publicly subscribe to his father’s racist past, but he has stated that he hopes to be “half the man” his father was. These are not the musings of a little boy idolizing his father.

In 1961, when Connor, Waggoner Sr. and Hanes allowed the Ku Klux Klan a “15- or 20-minute” window to attack the Freedom Riders, Jabo Waggoner was 24 years old.

J.T. Waggoner is the sole sponsor of S.B. 193, and while he has never advocated for segregation, he resides in one of the whitest areas in Alabama: a little suburb called Vestavia Hills.

Randy Marshall of the Alabama ACLU told the Associated Press he expects the law to be challenged in court for the unconstitutionality of allowing a religious institution to have government power. The K-12 school does not report its diversity numbers but I’m sure the police department will be more than transparent, although a 2015 drug raid at the school is still shrouded in mystery.

Briarwood and other Alabama churches are now free to form their own political forces while Alabama politicians worry about the big issues like criminalizing women who insist they have control over their own vaginas; combating the influx of Mexican immigrants coming across the border Alabama shares with Georgia and, of course, those anti-American Islamic fundamentalists who want to incorporate their religious values into the law.

God Bless the great state of Alabama.

 

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