Let’s talk about that new law recently signed by the Alabama governor. The bill amends Alabama Code § 16-22-1. Here is the original text of that section:
(a) The president or chief executive officer of any state college or university, the president or chief executive officer of the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind, the Presidents of Talladega College, Concordia College, Samford University, Birmingham-Southern College, Miles College, Stillman College, Tuskegee University, Spring Hill College, Faulkner University, and Selma University may appoint and employ one or more suitable persons to act as police officers to keep off intruders and prevent trespass upon and damage to the property of the college or university or of the institute. These persons shall be charged with all the duties and invested with all the powers of police officers.
(b) Any person appointed to act as a police officer, pursuant to subsection (a), while on duty, shall carry and be trained in the proper use of a nonlethal weapon. For the purposes of this subsection, a nonlethal weapon is a weapon that is explicitly designed and primarily employed to immediately incapacitate the targeted person while minimizing fatalities and permanent injury. A nonlethal weapon is intended to have a reversible effect on the targeted person.
(c) A person appointed as a police officer pursuant to subsection (a) shall be certified through the Alabama Peace Officers’ Standards and Training Commission.
(d) This section is cumulative.
And under § 16-22-2 of the Alabama Code, any person appointed as an officer under the above section shall have police powers only on the property of the institute that employs them.
The law the Governor recently signed amends subsection (a) of the above statute to include two additional institutions: Briarwood Presbyterian Church and its school (elementary grades are taught at the main church building), and Madison Academy.
Of the eleven (11) institutes listed in (a) above, three (3) are Christian institutes and three (2) are affiliated/associated with a religious institution. Concordia College was one of them, but they ceased operations at the end of the 2017-2018 academic year. And aside from the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, the rest are historically black colleges and universities.
These are the remaining four (4) religious institutions:
- Samford University – private Christian university
- Birmingham-Southern College – affiliated with United Methodist Church
- Spring Hill College – private Jesuit college
- Faulkner University – private Christian university
Absolutely there are immediate First Amendment implications to the State authorizing religious education institutes to have their own police force. Since it gives the appearance of the government showing favor to those institutions.
Except appearances can be deceiving. And this has been getting blown well out of proportion.
I’ve discussed the Establishment Clause in detail already, and my prior article will guide my reasoning here. By allowing Briarwood Presbyterian Church and Madison Academy to have their own police forces, has the State of Alabama made a law that has regard for the foundations and principles of religion, specifically the Christian religion?
Indeed with the recent Supreme Court decision in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, 582 US ___ (2017), applying reasoning from Associated General Contractors of America v. Jacksonville, 508 US 656 (1993), Alabama may actually more violate the First Amendment by allowing only secular institutions to have their own police under § 16-22-1. And the same could be said if Alabama had been authorizing religious education institutions only to have their own police under § 16-22-1, and never allowing any secular institutions.
But since this is a matter of legislation, not policy, there is no recourse when an organization is denied. It’d be a different story if it was the Alabama Department of Justice authorizing and certifying those police forces. In which case they’d absolutely be bound by the aforementioned Supreme Court precedent.
But too many people wildly misinterpret the First Amendment in so, so many ways, as I show in my article regarding the response to the Trinity decision.
Contrary to many assertions, Alabama did not establish any kind of religious police. As those police forces are authorized by Alabama law to enforce Alabama law on the property of said institutions, they are also limited by the Constitutions of the State of Alabama and the United States, including the Bill of Rights – the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments specifically. And as already noted, those police only have jurisdiction on the properties of the institutions that hire them.