On August 9, 2014, Ms. Ellen Bogan, 60, was pulled over by Indiana State Trooper Brian Hamilton 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!) However, Ms. Bogan has now alleged in a lawsuit filed on her behalf by the American Civil (Criminal?) Liberties Union (“ACLU”) against Trooper Hamilton that he asked her if she had accepted Jesus Christ as her personal Savior, and whether she attended church. She further alleged that he gave her a pamphlet that outlines “God’s plan for salvation,” which includes a recommended suggestion to “realize you’re a sinner” and to “realize the Lord Jesus Christ paid the penalty for your sins.” (Yes, it is true that all speeders are sinners.) The pamphlet, published by the First Baptist Church of Cambridge, Indiana, advertised a radio program called “Policing for Jesus Ministries” hosted by “Trooper Dan Jones.” In an interview with the Indianapolis Star, Ms. Bogan said, “It’s completely out of line and it just — it took me aback. 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.” You can read the lawsuit here.
Indiana University Professor of Law Jennifer A. Drobac, who holds a doctorate in law from Stanford University Law School, told the Indianapolis Star, “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.” Of course, Professor Drobac did not speak to the issue of the Trooper’s free speech rights. In fact, Micah Clark of the American Family Association of Indiana, told USA Today, “I have people pass out religious material 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.” Mr. Clark is questioning whether a police officer should lose his right to free speech merely because he is wearing a badge. After all, according to Indiana State Police spokesman Captain David Bursten, there is not a specific policy that addresses officers who distribute religious materials.
Over the years, I have attended a number of events sponsored by the Fellowship of Christian Peace Officers (www.fcpo.org), and I know that we have many devout brothers and sisters in Christ who deal daily in a sordid and dangerous world that is unimaginable for most of us. (According to the National Law Enforcement Officers organization, through October 12, there have been 91 police officers killed in the line of duty across the United States in 2014.) But I have to admit that if I were pulled over and an officer asked me to consider conversion to Islam, the Church of Euthanasia, or the Creativity Movement, I would be deeply troubled. However, if he were to ask me to consider Scientology, or The Church of All Worlds, or even the Prince Philip Movement, it would simply be a funny story to tell my buddies at work and at the gym. In my recent blog about the Fields of Faith event at government-run schools, one commenter noted, “One English teacher asked [my son] on the first day what the religion of every student was and made it clear she did not believe in God. Knowing her stance and the way she required self-disclosure left [my son] feeling pressured and defensive about his faith.” In contrast, Ms. Bogan was able to drive away from Trooper Hamilton with a warning ticket within a few minutes, but my commenter’s son and his classmates will have to sit through her class for an entire academic year. But if the State of Indiana decides to punish and/or fire Trooper Hamilton, then so should lots of teachers and school administrators in government schools, and professors in state universities be punished as well. After all, as Professor Drobac claims, a government employee, “while on duty, while engaged in official action,” should not be allowed to impose their religious (and consistent with Professor Drobac’s logic, a non-religious) worldview. In any event, Ms. Bogan, a gaggle of ACLU lawyers, at least one judge, and a jury of Ms. Bogan’s peers will now be eternally responsible for their study and response to the Holy Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Please pray for Trooper Hamilton and for Ms. Bogan. I know that attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom are also reading this blog, and I think that Trooper Hamilton may need some help from you very soon. And if you wish to contact Indiana Governor Mike Pence, you can reach his office via email at http://in.gov/gov/2333.htm. I already let Governor Pence know how I stand on this matter.