Cop grills driver over her religious beliefs
Indiana resident Ellen Bogan, 60, ‘fessed up to being a True Believer … but just to get get away from a proselytising state trooper.
According to this report, Bogan, who was pulled up for an alleged traffic violation, was given the third degree about her religious beliefs by Indiana State Police Trooper Brian Hamilton. She said:
I’m not affiliated with any church. I don’t go to church. 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 and the American Civil Liberties Union have now filed a lawsuit in federal court against Hamilton. It 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.
When she was stopped, the trooper handed Bogan a warning ticket. Then, Bogan said, Hamilton – with the lights on his marked police car still flashing – posed some personal questions.
• Did she have a home church?
• Did she accept Jesus Christ as her savior?
Bogan’s lawsuit 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, 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.”
State Police spokesman David Bursten confirmed that State Police received notice about the lawsuit in late September but said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
Bursten said there is no specific policy in State Police code that addresses officers who distribute religious materials.
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.
Said Jennifer Drobac, a professor at the Indiana University Robert H McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis who has studied religion and government.
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.
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 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.
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 was 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. [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.