Lawsuit: Cop Preaches Christianity During Traffic Stop, Hands Woman ‘Policing for Jesus Ministries’ Pamphlet
Ellen Bogan of Huntington says Indiana State Police Trooper Brian Hamilton preached Christianity to her when he pulled her over for an alleged traffic violation in Union County in August.
Bogan says the trooper handed her a warning ticket, then he began to ask some personal questions.
[su_center_ad]Hamilton allegedly asked if she has a home church, then went on to ask, ‘Did she accept Jesus Christ as her savior?’
“It’s completely out of line and it just — it took me back,” 60-year-old Bogan told The Indianapolis Star.
Bogan and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in federal court against Hamilton.
According to the lawsuit, the officer violated Bogan’s First and Fourth Amendment rights when he questioned her religious background and handed her a church pamphlet that asks the reader “to acknowledge that she is a sinner.”
“The most important thing for people to understand is that the First Amendment specifies that the government shall not prefer one religion over another religion, or religious adherence over anything else,”Jennifer Drobac, a professor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis said.
“The police officer is representing the government … so that means, as a representative, this person, while on duty, while engaged in official action, is basically overstepping and is trying to establish religion.”
Bogan said Hamilton asked her about her faith multiple times during the traffic stop. She felt because he was a trooper and his police car was still parked behind hers, she could not leave or refuse questioning.
“The whole time, his lights were on,” Bogan said. “I had no reason to believe I could just pull away at that point, even though I had my warning.”
According to the complaint, Hamilton asked if he could give Bogan something and he went to his car to retrieve a pamphlet from First Baptist Church in Cambridge City.
The pamphlet advertises a radio broadcast from “Trooper Dan Jones” called “Policing for Jesus Ministries.” It also outlines “God’s plan for salvation,” a four-point list that advises the reader to “realize you’re a sinner” and “realize the Lord Jesus Christ paid the penalty for your sins.”
“I’m not affiliated with any church. I don’t go to church,” Bogan said. “I felt compelled to say I did just because I had a state trooper standing at the passenger-side window. It was just weird,” she said.
When Bogan contacted the Indiana State Police afterward and requested a formal investigation, she was told later that the agency was “taking supervisory action.”
The Indy Star reports that Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana, said that even though the traffic stop might not have been the best time to question someone about faith, he wondered whether a police officer should lose his right to free speech because he is wearing a badge.
“I have people pass out religious material all the time. Mormons come to my door all the time, and it doesn’t offend me,” Clark said. “(This case) might not be the most persuasive time to talk to someone about their faith, but I don’t think that a police officer is prohibited from doing something like that.”
But Drobac said that while the officer has his own First Amendment rights, constitutional requirements that church and state be kept separate prevent him from sharing those beliefs on the job.
“I don’t think that’s appropriate,” Drobac said. “When you’re in your police blues, you do have the authority of the state. That’s why police officers wear uniforms — to indicate their authority and their position.”
Daniel O. Conkle, a law professor at Indiana University at Bloomington who studies law and religion, said the law becomes somewhat nebulous in instances like the radio program, which notes that Trooper Dan Jones is a trooper but his radio show is produced while he is off duty.
“You’re getting into a much fuzzier area,” Conkle said. “The question would be, for purposes of the establishment clause: ‘Is the speech of the police officer on the radio program effectively speech of the government?’ ”
“And sometimes, that can give rise to some pretty difficult questions and some pretty difficult line drawing,” he said.
While to some this lawsuit may not seem like an issue, imagine if the officer began preaching about Allah. The outrage would be deafening.
H/T: The incomparable @CarlaAkins with thanks. [su_csky_ad]