There’s a typical line of questioning you expect from a police officer when you get pulled over:
“Do you know why I pulled you over? Why were you going so fast? License and registration please.”
Two things you don’t expect to hear? “Are you a Christian? Where do you go to church?”
Indiana resident Ellen Bogan was asked exactly that by an Indiana State Trooper during a recent stop.
Bogan was pulled over by Trooper Brian Hamilton for allegedly passing a car illegally. She denies that claim, but that’s not the central part of this story. After Hamilton handed Bogan a warning ticket, he told her to wait as he went to his car to grab some materials. When he got back, his message for Bogan sounded more like a Sunday morning sermon than anything else.
Was she a part of a church community? Has she accepted Jesus Christ as her personal savior? Bogan says she was shocked to be peppered with questions like this during a traffic stop.
"It's completely out of line and it just — it took me back," Bogan said. "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 Bogan a number of religious pamphlets during the stop.
Bogan contacted the Indian State Police Department after the bizarre stop and requested an investigation. The department said that administrative action would be taken, but declined to ever update her on what was done. Now, Bogan has teamed up with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and filed a lawsuit against the department.
Jennifer Drobac, a professor at the Indiana University School of Law, says Hamilton’s actions were entirely inappropriate.
"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," Drobac says. "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."
Drobac says Hamilton is acting and speaking on behalf of the state while on duty.
"I don't think that's appropriate," Drobac said. "When you're in your police blues, you do have the authority of the state. That's why police officers wear uniforms — to indicate their authority and their position."
Bogan’s lawsuit is seeking reimbursement of her attorney fees and “damages after a trial by jury.”