Friday, August 20, 2010

N.C. Court of Appeals: Religious NC College Can't Have Police

You read that headline right.

Davidson College, is a private liberal arts college located in North Carolina, just 20 miles north of Charlotte. Davidson is a Presbyterian college of about 1,800 students and is rated as one of the best liberal arts schools in the United States. Like many other schools in the state, Davidson College has its own police department.

Under North Carolina law, a police department for a school or a community must be certified by the North Carolina Attorney General’s office. The department must have undergone the training required to certify the department and its officers must meet the law enforcement standards and training required by state law.

Now, let’s get to how this started.

In 2006, a Davidson College police officer stopped a car on a street adjacent to the college campus. The driver, Julie Ann Yencer, who was not a Davidson student, pleaded guilty to driving while impaired but appealed.

The Court of Appeals ruled that because Davidson College has a religious affiliation, it's officers should not be allowed to carry out laws on behalf of the state. The court called it a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition of laws establishing religion. Judge Jim Wynn in writing the unanimous opinion for the court said that allowing the officers to do so created "an excessive government entanglement with religion".

Wynn, who left the state bench last week to join the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also said in the opinion that the school's police power "is an unconstitutional delegation of 'an important discretionary governmental power' to a religious institution in the context of the First Amendment".

The unanimous ruling by the state Court of Appeals means that there is no automatic appeal to the state Supreme Court. If an appeal is sought, the other two judges urged the Supreme Court to consider the case so as to clarify whether a religious affiliated college or university should be delegated the authority to carry out the state’s laws if that school does not seek to impose it’s beliefs  or indoctrinate students.

At no point in this case was it ever claimed that the officer chastised Ms. Yencer in any way that had any religious context or undertones. He cited her for driving while impaired, and she pleaded guilty.

So, just how far reaching can this ruling go? If a police officer is wearing a Cross, a Crucifix, or a Star of David, could it not be possibly claimed that delegating that officer the power to enforce laws for the state is a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition of laws establishing religion? Could not some other court, or even this court say that would be “an unconstitutional delegation of an important discretionary governmental power” to a religious individual?

What about hospitals, nursing homes, retirement centers, children’s homes and orphanages that have a religious affiliation? Could not someone somewhere bring court proceedings against these because they are recipients of some governmental fundings? After all, why would the courts not rule that this was also a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition of  establishing religion?


  1. Of course, there is more to this than you point out. To be sure, the opinion follows the existing law under two earlier cases that held Campbell University and Pieffer University to be similarly situated. The judges pointed out the the Court of Appeals could only follow this law, not make new law for Davidson. But the Court pointed out that the Supreme Court, unlike the Court of Appeals, did have to authority to reconsider this earlier set precedent. Significantly, the judges urged the Supreme Court to take this case on appeal and consider whether to overrule the precedent. Please read the opinion

  2. Liberalism marches on, although with less cover than it used to enjoy.

  3. No matter if there is "more to this than you point out", it still shows the courts today creating law and not interpreting it according to the Constitution.. In fact, the rulings show a complete lack of understanding the meaning and the intent of the Constitution. The First Amendment states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." The N.C. Legislature did not, nor did the office of the N.C. Attorney General "establish a law respecting a religion". The Amendment's sole purpose was to prohibit Congress from establishing a state religion. The N.C Legislature and the Attorney Generals office did not establish a religion by enabling the police department of Davidson College to enforce state laws. Any idea that this is the case shows a complete and total ignorance of the Constitution and ignorance of the framers intent.



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