My last post was titled, “Good Cop,” so it is only fitting that this post is dubbed “Bad Cop.” It is a nice juxtaposition – good cop/bad cop – don’t you think? Perhaps “Bad” is too strong a word or too judgmental. Over-zealous might be a better term, but it does not have the cadence of “good cop/bad cop.” You be the judge. Here is the story.
Ellen Bogan was buzzing down U.S. Route 27 in Union County, Indiana when Indiana State Trooper Brian Hamilton pulled her over for an alleged illegal pass while speeding. During the traffic stop, Trooper Hamilton issued a warning ticket. (A warning ticket for speeding and an illegal pass? They are so nice in Indiana!). As it is customary in a situation such as this, Trooper Hamilton asked for her license and registration – and then asked a question that is not customary at all. In fact, the question is rather bizarre. He asked her whether she accepted Jesus as her personal savior.
Now Bogan, who says that she is not a churchgoer, states that Hamilton continued in this vein by pressing her on whether she had a “home church” and handed her a brochure imploring her to “realize you’re a sinner,” all while his flashing lights were still on.
“It’s completely out of line and it just — it took me aback,” Bogan said of the encounter. She continued, “The whole time, his lights were on. I had no reason to believe I could just pull away at that point, even though I had my warning.”
Bogan said that she felt “compelled” to tell Hamilton that she attended church regularly, even though she does not, as he loomed over her passenger-side window. “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.” One can only imagine what the trooper would have done if she had answered “no.”
Bogan and the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana have filed a lawsuit in federal court against Hamilton. The lawsuit alleges that he violated Bogan’s First and Fourth Amendment rights when he probed into her religious background and handed her a church pamphlet from First Baptist Church in Cambridge, Indiana.
Bogan spoke with the Indiana State Police and was told that Hamilton would receive “supervisory action,” but there were no more specifics, which is why she is filing the lawsuit. Bogan is asking for attorney’s fees and “damages after a trial by jury,” which seems rather excessive to me but that is for a judge and/or jury to decide.
State Police spokesman Capt. David Bursten confirmed that State Police received notice about the lawsuit but said the agency does not comment on pending litigation. Bursten also said that there is no specific policy in the State Police code that addresses officers who distribute religious materials.
The lawsuit raises questions about when it is 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.
While to some this lawsuit may not seem like an issue, but imagine if the officer began preaching about Allah. The outrage would be deafening.
The lawsuit gives the details of the traffic stop.
“Trooper Hamilton prolonged the stop by asking Ms. Bogan, among other things, if she had accepted Jesus Christ as her savior and then presented her with a pamphlet from the First Baptist Church in Cambridge that informed the reader that he or she is a sinner; listed God’s Plan of Salvation, noting that the person must realize that ‘the Lord Jesus Christ paid the penalty for your sins,’ and advertised a radio broadcast entitled ‘Policing for Jesus Ministries.’”
The lawsuit alleges that Hamilton’s “proselytizing and coercive questions” about her belief in Jesus violated Bogan’s freedom of religion under the Constitution’s First Amendment, while the fact that Hamilton detained her to preach about Jesus Christ after he had already ticketed her was a Fourth Amendment violation.
So, you ask, what is so wrong about a police officer talking about Jesus Christ to people he could potentially arrest — or worse?
Well, according to conservative activist Micah Clark of the American Family Association of Indiana, nothing is wrong with a police officer doing that. In fact, Clark says, the lawsuit may be a violation of Hamilton’s First Amendment rights.
Clark stated, “I have people pass out religious material all the time. Mormons come to my door all the time, and it doesn’t offend me. I don’t think that a police officer is prohibited from doing something like that.”
Sure. Someone knocking at your door and a police officer pulling you over are exactly the same things. Give me a break!
Of course, Mormons knocking on his door does not “offend” Clark, as they are not armed with a pistol, baton, and a Taser (conducted electrical weapon) and in a position to legally use deadly force against him.
Clark’s example of Mormons coming to his door is absurd, unquestionably. Mormons are agents of their church, not government employees. Why he would think his argument establishes any sort of equivalence defies rational understanding. It points out what appears to be the basis of his argument, which seems to be that Christians can do what they want when they want to do it – the Constitution (and rational arguments) be damned.
Yes, there is a place for religion, perhaps even for proselytizing, but it is not during a traffic stop and not by a state trooper. If Trooper Hamilton has a problem with that, he is certainly free to find another line of work that will accommodate his desire to share his faith.
Constitutional scholar Jennifer Drobac, an Indiana University law professor, says that the problem is that police officers represent the government, and the constitution says that the government cannot stick its fingers into anyone’s religion or lack thereof.
Says Drobac, “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.”
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.
You know, I have no real problem with the idea that religious faith can play an important role in the lives of people. After all, this is still (nominally, at least) a free country, and freedom of religion is still guaranteed by the Constitution.
I believe that I am a pretty tolerant guy, but here is a point where my tolerance runs smack dab into the reality of modern Christianity and here it is: America was not founded as a Christian nation. I hate to be the bearer of what is bad news for some, but if you know our Constitution, you know that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause forbids Congress from passing any laws that would formally establish any sort of state religion. Not that this fact has stopped some of those on the Religious Right from promoting the mistaken notion that this is a Christian nation, with a Constitution ordained by Almighty God that places Christianity at the top of the theological food chain. Perhaps the most damning evidence of a non-Christian past is the little-known Treaty of Tripoli between the United States of America and Tripolania in 1797. President John Adams sought to stem unremitting Muslim raids against Mediterranean shipping and protect American sailors from African slavery. This obscure treaty states in clear, concise language: “The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” And, of course, through ratification of the First Amendment, Thomas Jefferson observed that the American people built a “wall of separation between church and state.” James Madison also wrote that “Strongly guarded. . . is the separation between religion and government in the Constitution of the United States.” It seems to me that there existed little controversy about this interpretation from our Founding Fathers.
What public servants such as Indiana State Trooper Brian Hamilton fail to grasp is that their role is to serve ALL Americans, regardless of race, creed, faith, color, or any other qualifier. While they are certainly free to hold such religious beliefs as they see fit, it cannot and must not have any bearing on the performance of their duties. Hamilton’s position is secular: to protect and to serve all, NOT to proselytize those to whom he believes are in need of salvation. Trooper Hamilton represents the government, which according to the Constitution is a secular entity. As such, Hamilton has no standing to probe the religious beliefs (or lack of beliefs) of those citizens with whom he comes into contact. At least not while he is collecting a paycheck from the government.
Trooper Hamilton’s heart may have been in the right place. He may have even thought he was doing a good thing. In his civilian, off-duty life that may well be true. However, in the scope of his duties as an Indiana State Trooper there is no place – absolutely none, zero, zip, nada, zilch – for proselytizing.
As for the lawsuit, I think that we are a little too “sue-happy” in this country. An old adage states that the first words that an infant learns are not “Mommy” or “Daddy.” But “sue, sue.”
I do not think suing is necessarily appropriate in this case.
However, I do believe that Trooper Hamilton should have been reported and strong actions against him should have been taken – up to termination. A suspension would seem to me to be appropriate action and if he should do this again, then termination would be in order. I worry about an officer of the law who is willing to use his position of power to force people to pull over and then to be so inappropriate with such people – so inappropriate in this instance that I have to question his decision-making skills.
“License and registration, please. And, oh, by-the-way, have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?” just does not sound right to me. Bad cop? Nah, but he is grossly uninformed and much too zealous for his own good.