When Indiana State Trooper Brian Hamilton pulled over 60-year-old Ellen Bogan for some sort of supposed traffic violation in August, he asked for her license, registration — and whether she accepted Jesus Christ as her savior.
Now Bogan, who says she is not a churchgoer, is suing Hamilton in federal court, alleging that he violated her constitutional rights when he pressed 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 told The Indianapolis Star newspaper. "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 doesn't, as he loomed over her passenger-side window. "It was just weird," she said.
The lawsuit, filed on September 23, gives the details of the Jesus-preaching 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.'"
What's so wrong about a police officer talking about Jesus Christ to people he could potentially arrest — or worse? According to conservative activist Micah Clark of the American Family Association of Indiana, nothing. In fact, Clark says, the lawsuit may be a violation of Hamilton's First Amendment rights.
"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 told the Star. "I don't think that a police officer is prohibited from doing something like that."
But 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 can't stick its fingers into anyone's religion or lack thereof.
"As a representative, this person, while on duty, while engaged in official action, is basically overstepping and is trying to establish religion," said Drobac, of the Jesus Christ-preaching policeman.