Indiana state trooper Brian Hamilton is developing a bit of a reputation for proselytizing while on the job. Wendy Pyle, who is currently being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, filed a federal lawsuit against Hamilton on Tuesday. This is not the first such lawsuit the trooper has faced, a similar suit was filed in September 2014.
In August of 2014, Ellen Bogan was pulled over by Officer Hamilton and handed a warning ticket for a traffic violation. Rather than letting her go, Hamilton began asking Bogan personal questions about her faith, including whether or not she accepted Jesus as her savior. Hamilton even handed Bogan a religious pamphlet asking the reader to acknowledge that they are a sinner. The trooper left his police lights on throughout the course of his uncomfortable questioning, so Bogan felt she was unable to leave the situation.
“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.” Ellen Bogan
Bogan, also represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a lawsuit against Hamilton in September 2014. The lawsuit claims that the officer violated Bogan’s first and fourth amendment rights when he unreasonably prolonged the traffic stop in order to probe into her religious beliefs. It calls into question the legality of a police officer speaking about his faith while on duty as a government official.
“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,” said Jennifer Drobac, a professor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis who has studied religion and government.
“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’s case was settled and Hamilton was instructed to no longer question others about their religious beliefs or hand them religious documents. Unfortunately, the officer did not heed this counsel as Wendy Pyle’s lawsuit alleges nearly the exact situation that Bogan experienced.
Pyle was pulled over by Hamilton in January, and claims that the trooper gave her a warning for speeding and began to ask her questions about her faith. Allegedly, he asked her what church she went to and invited her to attend his parish, even going so far as to give her directions. After the stop, Pyle was also informed that Hamilton had placed her on a prayer list at his church.
“In order to hopefully end these inquiries Ms. Pyle indicated that she did attend a church and that she was saved.”
After the traffic stop, Pyle filed a formal complaint with Indiana State Police, who said that they do not comment on open complaints. However, Hamilton has been removed from patrol and assigned to administrative desk work. Pyle is seeking a jury trial, punitive damages, and attorney fees in her lawsuit.
“When he’s engaged in the official acts of his job, especially when he’s a police officer, those kinds of stops are inherently coercive. That is not the time to be talking to people about their religion,” said Richard Waples, an Indianapolis civil rights attorney.
There is a time and a place for religion, but while on the job as a government official is neither the time nor the place.
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