Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law Wednesday a measure granting the Briarwood Presbyterian Church the right to set up its own law enforcement agency to cover its sanctuary, seminary and sprawling school campuses, despite criticism that the measure was unconstitutional.
A similar measure, first proposed four years, was dropped in 2017 after opponents argued that it grants government power to a religious institution in violation of the Establishment Clause.
Church officials say they need their own police force to protect its 4,100 members, 2,000 students and two campuses in neighboring Jefferson and Shelby counties, especially in light of armed attacks on schools and churches.
Randall Marshall, the executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, told the Associated Press he expects the law, which goes into effect in the fall, will be challenged in the courts.
Other critics say the church has a history of racism and homophobia.
Church officials said current Alabama state 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," according to a statement made to WBRC in Birmingham.
"We are grateful to the governor and our elected officials for approving our request to be added to the existing Alabama" law, the statement concluded.