Perhaps the most famous verse in the New Testament, John 3:16, sums up Christianity by saying that God loves humanity so much that he sacrificed his only son so that believers can experience eternal life.
And who better to persuade someone to voluntarily accept this good news than a state trooper carrying a loaded gun who has apprehended a driver with a marked squad car and won’t let her leave?
Such, apparently, was the theory of Indiana State Police trooper Brian Hamilton when he pulled driver Ellen Bogan over in rural Union County in August for what he believed was a moving violation, The Indianapolis Star reports.
Hamilton flashed the red-and-blue lights atop his marked car. He forced Bogan, 60, to the side of the road. He gave her a warning ticket.
He also quizzed her about her religious faith. He asked her if she attends church. (She does not.) He asked if she is a Christian.
According to Bogan, the Indiana State Trooper then went to his squad car and returned with a pamphlet. She said she felt obligated to take it.
“It’s completely out of line,” Bogan told the Star. “It took me aback.”
“The whole time, his lights were on,” she also said. “I had no reason to believe I could just pull away at that point, even though I had my warning.”
The pamphlet, advertising the First Baptist Church in Cambridge City, Ind. is basic evangelical fare. It tells of “God’s Plan of Salvation” and lists some Bible verses and information about what makes the church unique. “Realize You’re A Sinner,” it shouts.
The flyer also promotes a Sunday morning radio broadcast called “Policing for Jesus Ministries” created by “Trooper Dan Jones.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana has now filed a federal lawsuit on Bogan’s behalf. The suit alleges that Hamilton violated Bogan’s First and Fourth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution.
Jennifer Drobac, a law professor at Indiana University, suggested that both the facts and the law in the case appear to favor the plaintiff.
“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,” she told the Star.
“This person, while on duty, while engaged in official action, is basically overstepping and is trying to establish religion,” the professor added.
The Star also found someone to defend the state trooper: Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana.
“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 suggested. “(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.”
A spokesman for the Indiana State Police confirmed that the lawsuit had been received but would not comment on its contents.