After a 2015 shooting at a historically black church in South Carolina left nine people dead, leaders at Cornerstone Baptist Church in South Dallas wanted to do something to protect their congregation.
They considered establishing a volunteer safety ministry, a solution for many small churches that can’t afford to hire private security.
“We wanted to set up a safety team because our neighborhood is a high-crime area,” said Charles Jones, a deacon at the church. “We wanted our parishioners to be as safe as they possibly could be.”
The traditionally black church recently sent four volunteers to a nearby community college to be trained as security guards. But without a special letter from the state, the team Jones is trying to set up would be illegal. Under current law, his volunteers could be subject to a $10,000 fine and a Class A misdemeanor for a first offense. Subsequent offenses could mean jail time.
Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, wants to make it easier for churches like Jones’ to create volunteer security teams. He’s filed legislation that would waive state requirements on training, licensing, insurance and background checks for setting up these teams at places of worship.
Rinaldi and supporters of House Bill 421 say the requirements infringe on their “religious liberties” and their ability to protect themselves, as well as other routine volunteer functions.
But critics say the regulations keep people safe, and without them, churches could create untrained vigilante teams.
“If something went wrong, it could be devastating to the public or to the person who does the service,” said Chuck Chadwick, president of the National Organization for Church Security and Safety Management, a private security firm based in Frisco that trains volunteers and makes sure they have the proper licensing.
Jones and other church leaders often don’t even know the requirements exist.
“We didn’t know we needed a letter,” Jones said. “I was kind of surprised. Usually churches are exempt because we are a religious organization.”
Source: Dallas Morning News | James Barragán