Church: Not Meant to Police the State

The separation of church and state has been an important part of the First Amendment since it’s creation, stating that no laws from the federal government can dictate control or rules over religion in our country. It has allowed religious freedoms in our country to exist (to the extent that they have been allowed by the people to be), and yet in Birmingham, Alabama we find that their people forget this important distinction as a mega-church has been allowed to form its very own police force by right of bill.

The Briarwood Presbyterian Church is not the first private group in the state to ask for police, and in fact a number of private universities were given “the authority to have a police force”, and in most colleges across the country there are law enforcement groups focused there. But for the first time in United States, history, a church will have it’s very own police force, one which they will pay for themselves. This is a big deal, because the breaking of the barriers between the two open up for more problematic issues in the future, not just in Alabama but for the United States as a whole.

Now, the reasoning by the church might make sense, as they wish to “keep its school as well as its more than 4,000 person congregation safe”. However, many argue that this is the beginning of more severe political corruption within the area, as the police could be used to cover up any criminal activities performed by churchgoers, and threaten the sanctity of the community. The fact that the mega-church exists, much less is working to earn itself a police force, is disconcerting to the fragile state this country is when it comes to any form of religious anything. This bill has the support of Senate Majority Leader J.T. Waggoner, a Republican with strong, influential ties to the area that could get this passed. It is also not the only religious-related bill coming into question.

A bill named The Alabama Church Protection Act will “allow churches to enlist armed congregants for security”, as well as will give any legal assistance required for those who indeed shoot others. This kind of church-political unity is a worrying development in the nation, especially in an area known for being a part of the “Bible Belt” of the United States, and thus religious extremism is commonplace. This is not the first.

In North Carolina, religious conservatives have fought long and hard to pass the “Uphold Historical Marriage Act”, which goes against the 2015 Supreme Court in favor of gay marriage and instead fights to once again make it illegal in the state. Two years after the ruling, those in power state it “null and void in the State of North Carolina”, going against the longstanding “supremacy clause” in the United States Constitution that states the Constitution the highest law in the land, and the rulings of the Supreme Court are the same. Though the bill will not even survive entry into the state’s House of Representatives, the fact that it is even attempted in the first place shows the lengths that those of religious fervor will go to control and manipulate law and politics in their favor. Going back to my earlier statement, the religious freedoms of this country are allowed or regulate by the people, and unfortunately that means one religion is truly ruling out.

Not only are these examples of religious manipulations of politics, it is also examples of attempts towards “religious policing”, a term generally used to describe countries like Saudi Arabia or Iran, on American soil. Those same people who spew hatred and disgust against those of Islamic faith are actually trying to bring the same forms of government and policing from other countries to ours, the “Land of the Free”. It shows that though we may claim to be a religiously tolerant country, we are in fact one of deeply Christian roots that leaves no room for other religions or views to truly bloom. Whether that comes in gay marriage (which is allowed by federal law throughout the United States; cannot fight it) or allowing churches to own their own police forces, these cases show that there are people out there who wish to push for religious policing, a corruption of the long-sought separation between the two great powers, church and state, that truly rule this nation. If there is any religious policing in our nation, it should be focused on keeping those two things separate, as was intended from the beginning. We cannot allow for it to grow, or risk greater problems to spread across the U.S.

-Austin Neal

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5 thoughts on “Church: Not Meant to Police the State

  1. Hi Austin,
    This post made a good point that is often not addressed. The separation of Church and state needs to go both ways. I had not heard about the church in Alabama making its own police force and one thing that came to mind immediately was why they would need a separate police force from that of the local officers. I had not thought about how it could be similar to university or campus police but there is a fair difference between public universities and religious organizations. There could be a large influence on how they police because of the connection to a religious organization. It is also interesting that this seems to be like it is more common in the South as the incidents you mentioned were in Alabama and North Carolina. It makes me wonder again, why is there such a difference in these areas that are working for more religious policies? Also it brings up the question of how to prevent these things from passing and ensure that the separation of church and state is upheld.

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  2. Wow, I’ve actually never heard of any of this. I guess what surprises me the most is the fact that these religious extremists are trying to protect themselves from terror when, in many cases, the terror comes from those who are religious extremist. However, I’m not surprise that this bill would be introduced in Alabama and that it would pass. I don’t see how this bill would be beneficial to the whole community, especially if they’re putting one religion above all others. What exactly ignited this bill to be proposed? Even in the article, it just saying it wants to keep the congregation safe. That just seems pretty broad considering everyone wants to be safe while in worship. The complete purpose of it is hard to understand. Personally, this just seems like another attempt for the religious right to be more exclusive than what they already are. I think it’s ridiculous to have armed police force, in militant outfits, guarding one church. I wish they’d take the same measures when addressing other problems within one’s community that makes all safer. As you’ve noted, I also think this would increase the power that churches already hold over politicians, especially since many already throw their religion in congress already. Great post, I can officially say I’ve learned something new this semester.

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  3. Austin,
    I agree with you that having a church run police force creates a blurry line between church and state. I believe that it will create problems and that people will question their authority given that they are religiously affiliated. One question that I have is what will the church police force be able to do? What powers do they have? I do not think that this police force should have the same abilities as any other police force. They should serve more as of a security position for the church. If they are given the same power as the actual police, people will be less likely to take them seriously. The issue of the police force being biased also comes into play. Nothing seems to mention whether or not this police force will be made up entirely of individuals belonging to the same religion. I think that this is an important factor because if they are, the police will be less diverse and more prone to groupthink. The police would be unfairly biased to that religion. I think that this could cause other institutions and organizations to try and create a police force too. Therefore, I personally think it is not a good idea to create a church police force and that we should stick to the city and the state police forces we already have.
    -Danyelle Rinker

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  4. Austin,

    Great blog post, I thought this was wonderful.

    In my opinion, church and state should always be separate and continue to be separate. Also in my opinion, when gay marriage was legalized nothing bad is going to happen besides gay people getting married. It’s not even bad. To some people it may be. But World War III will not start, gay people will not overthrow the world, and gay people will not begin taking jobs from the already-employed. The fact that North Carolina is continually attempting to hinder the process of a federally passed law is just a waste of their time.

    Also church-run police forces are just a recipe for disaster. It immediately puts the needs of the church and church officials first before the citizens of the community. That in itself is the main problem with church-run police forces. The church is already a powerful organization by itself. Adding the power of the police would make the church a complete governing body over the surrounding community.

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    1. Hi Austin! As someone who has family in very conservative parts of the South, I am nervous as to how these laws, if passed, could affect the religious/political landscape. I think that the Founding Fathers stipulated the separation between church and state for a reason, because of what churches like the one you described from happening. I understand some churches being fearful for the safety of their congregation and maybe wanting to have security, but that’s different from a church having their own police force. I think that there is more harm than good if churches are allowed to have their own police forces. This could allow leaders of the church to feel that they “own” the church and that they have more influence over politicians to serve their personal interests. This could also lead members of the congregation to believe that they are “better” than any other congregations because they have their own police force and could use its officers at personal whim, or it could invoke fear that the safety of the congregation is constantly in danger.

      Annie

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