The Cardinal/Mayor Jager and The Right Reverend/Chief Mills prayer breakfast “sideshow” got us thinking about the next logical extension “Proselytizing Police men!” It’s just a matter of time folks!
………………….and then we saw this in the Indiana Star:
Ellen Bogan expects police to protect and serve — not proselytize.
But she says Indiana State Police Trooper Brian Hamilton pitched Christianity to her when he pulled her over for an alleged traffic violation in August on U.S. 27 in Union County.
With the lights on his marked police car still flashing, the trooper handed Bogan a warning ticket. Then, Bogan said, Hamilton posed some personal questions.
Did she have a home church?
Did she accept Jesus Christ as her savior?
“It’s completely out of line and it just — it took me aback,” Bogan, 60, told The Indianapolis Star.
Bogan and the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana have filed a lawsuit in federal court against Hamilton. The lawsuit alleges he violated Bogan’s First and Fourth Amendment rights when he probed into her religious background and handed her a church pamphlet that asks the reader “to acknowledge that she is a sinner.”
State Police spokesman Capt. David Bursten confirmed that State Police received notice about the lawsuit in late September but said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
Calls to a home number listed for Hamilton were not returned.
The lawsuit raises questions about when it’s appropriate for a police officer to speak about his faith. If the allegations in this case are true, legal experts said, a violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause appears to be clear.
“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,” said Jennifer Drobac, a professor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis who has studied religion and government.
“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, who lives in Huntington, said Hamilton asked her about her faith multiple times during the traffic stop. Because he was a trooper and his police car was still parked behind hers, she said she felt 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.”
Bogan’s complaint also claims that Hamilton asked if he could give her something and that he went to his car to retrieve a pamphlet from First Baptist Church in Cambridge City.
The pamphlet, which was included in the lawsuit, 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.”
Bogan said she contacted the Indiana State Police afterward and requested a formal investigation, and was told later that the agency was “taking supervisory action.” She said she was not told what that action was, however.
Bursten said there is no specific policy in State Police code that addresses officers who distribute religious materials.
Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana, said that although the traffic stop might not have been the best time to quiz someone about faith, he questioned 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.”
Drobac said that although 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.
What about an officer who is off-duty but is still wearing a police uniform?
“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.”
What’s less clear is how the law would affect someone like Dan Jones, the state trooper and minister whose radio program airs Sunday mornings on WIFE-FM and WJCF-FM.
Although Jones was not named as a defendant in Bogan’s lawsuit, his name and program appeared on the pamphlet Bogan said she was given. Jones did not respond to a phone message seeking comment.
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 Jones is a trooper but 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?’ ”
Conkle said the law tries to balance free speech rights with the prohibition on government endorsement or promotion of religion.
“And sometimes, that can give rise to some pretty difficult questions and some pretty difficult line drawing.”
INDYSTAR Jill Disis