An Indiana woman alleges that a police officer interrogated her about her religious views after pulling her over for a traffic violation. Ellen Bogan says Trooper Brian Hamilton of the State Police used the stop as an opportunity to ask her if she’d accepted Jesus Christ as her personal savior.
Bogan told the Indianapolis Star the encounter was “completely out of line” and added that she felt pressured to respond to Hamilton’s questions: “I had no reason to believe I could just pull away at that point, even though I had my [traffic] warning.”She added, “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.”
Hamilton also handed her a religious pamphlet advertising First Baptist Church in Cambridge, Ind. According to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU’s Indiana branch on Bogan’s behalf, the pamphlet also informed her that she is a “sinner” and offered “God’s Plan of Salvation” as the remedy for her degenerate state. It also recommended a broadcast hosted by Trooper Dan Jones of “Policing for Jesus Ministries.”
There’s little information available online about Policing for Jesus Ministries; a Google search primarily brings up reports of Bogan’s lawsuit. But it is true that Lt. Dan Jones is an Indiana police officer. In fact, he’s the commander of the Putnamville District post, a role that carries some influence.
It’s unclear, of course, if Jones is aware that Hamilton advertised his ministry on the job – or even how he defines “policing for Jesus.” Regardless, his prominent position, combined with the ministry’s title and its appearance in Hamilton’s dubious tract, doesn’t exactly encourage confidence in their approach to law enforcement. And it wouldn’t be the first time a police force aligned itself with fundamentalist Christianity. As we’ve reported previously on this blog and in Church & State magazine, police forces across the country have engaged in constitutionally dubious alliances with local churches and ministries. In Phoenix, Ariz., police partner with Catholic Charities and Bethany Bible Church to coerce alleged sex workers into a sectarian therapeutic program. Arrested women are brought to the church in handcuffs, where they are informed that they must participate in the program in order to avoid jail. (Americans United sent a legal demand letter to the city urging the end of the project.)
In Montgomery, Ala., this year, police launched “Operation Good Shepherd,” a program that brands itself as a community-based solution to a recent crime wave. Officers trained local Christian clergy to provide “counselling” at crime scenes, which, supporters claimed, would “reinforce morality” in the town.And in St. Louis, Mo., Lt. Dan Page was forced to resign when video surfaced of a speech he’d given arguing that the Bible served as the basis of the Declaration of Independence, and that it prohibited hate-crime legislation. “God does not respect persons so we have no business passing hate crime laws,” he told the audience. Page’s approach to police work came under national scrutiny after he threatened to arrest CNN’s Don Lemon during the Ferguson protests.
As officers of the law, police are required to maintain religious neutrality on the job. Yet from Missouri to Indiana, many seem willing to cross legal boundaries in order to proselytize to the public. Officers are certainly entitled to their personal religious views; they’re even entitled to believe that their jobs might be a bit easier if the populations they serve shared their views.But when they are acting in a law enforcement capacity they must keep those views to themselves. Brian Hamilton may have believed he was “policing for Jesus,” like his colleague Don Jones encouraged, but Ellen Bogan’s church attendance is irrelevant to her driving skills. It’s time for police officers to remember that their jobs are to enforce secular law, not the Bible.