Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has signed legislation allowing a mega-church to establish its own police force, despite threats of a legal challenge.
The law, which was approved quietly two weeks ago, allows Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham to set-up a private law enforcement department to make arrests when crimes are committed on its properties, according to the Associated Press.
Church officials say the measure is necessary to provide adequate security for the 2,000 students and faculty on its two private school campuses, the AP said.
According to AL.com, Briarwood Presbyterian Church averages 2,800 to 3,600 worshipers per week, making it one of the three biggest churches in Alabama. The church also has Briarwood Christian School, a private K-12 institution, with an enrollment of 1,875 students, and a theological seminary.
Per the website, the officers will have to complete state certified training by the Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission and be trained on the proper use of a non-lethal weapon.
Briarwood Presbyterian Church told WBRC in Birmingham in a statement that they are grateful to the governor and our elected officials for approving their request to be added to existing Alabama law.
Existing 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," they wrote.
"The institutions currently provided the protection under this statute include a number that have less students than does Briarwood Christian School."
A similar measure, first proposed four years ago, was dropped in 2017 after opponents argued that it grants government power to a religious institution in violation of the Establishment Clause, according Birmingham Watch, an Alabama initiative for independent journalism.