News >> Browse Articles >> Law Enforcement News


Court Nullifies Police Powers at Religious Colleges

Associated Press

August 20, 2010

RALEIGH, N.C. – A prestigious North Carolina private college cannot have police officers with the power to arrest suspects and enforce state law because the school is a religious institution, the state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

A three-judge panel agreed that the state Attorney General’s Office shouldn’t have commissioned Davidson College officers as law enforcement with powers similar to city police or county sheriffs. An attorney familiar with the case said it may apply to other private colleges with religious affiliations.

Allowing the school’s security officers to carry out laws on behalf of the state violates the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against laws establishing religion by creating “an excessive government entanglement with religion,” Judge Jim Wynn wrote in the unanimous opinion.

The police power “is an unconstitutional delegation of ‘an important discretionary governmental power’ to a religious institution in the context of the First Amendment,” Wynn wrote before he left the state bench to join the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week.

The unanimous ruling means there’s no automatic appeal to the state Supreme Court. If an appeal is sought, judges Donna Stroud and Cheri Beasley urged the Supreme Court to consider the case to clarify whether a college or university with a religious affiliation should be allowed to receive the delegated authority if it doesn’t seek to impose beliefs or indoctrinate students.

Davidson, a Presbyterian school of 1,800 students, has generated Rhodes Scholars and consistently ranks among the best liberal arts schools in the country. Davidson and schools like it have well-established principles of academic freedom and religious tolerance, the ruling said.

“We thus acknowledge the important distinction between an institution with religious influence or affiliation and one that is pervasively sectarian,” Wynn wrote.

Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office, which represents the state in the case, is reviewing the decision, a spokeswoman said.

The case arose when a Davidson officer stopped a motorist in 2006 on a street adjacent to the campus, 20 miles north of Charlotte. The driver, Julie Anne Yencer — who was not a Davidson student — pleaded guilty to driving while impaired but appealed.

It’s unclear if the ruling will immediately affect Davidson’s nine-employee police department as classes begin Monday. School spokeswoman Stacey Schmeidel said the school is “analyzing the court’s opinion to determine its full implications.”

The Legislature allows the attorney general to certify police agencies and commission officers at private, nonprofit colleges. The authority is not denied to schools “originally established by or affiliated with religious denominations,” the law says.

Wynn cited earlier cases that found it unconstitutional to delegate police powers to Campbell University and Pfeiffer University. Both Pfeiffer and Campbell had strong affiliations to denominations and Christian purposes.

The North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities has 36 members, including Davidson and others, such as Duke and Wake Forest. It wasn’t immediately clear how many have the level of religious affiliation that fit the category identified in Tuesday’s ruling.

“There are presumably a lot of similarly situated institutions around the state that have been delegated the police power in an unconstitutional way, and this presumably applies to all of them,” said Yencer’s attorney, Allen Brotherton of Charlotte.

The opinion pointed out Davidson is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), requires more than half of the trustees to be active members in the denomination and that the life of the president provide “evidence of strong Christian faith and commitment.”

The school’s statement of purpose says in part: “The Christian tradition to which Davidson remains committed recognizes God as the source of all truth, and believes that Jesus Christ is the revelation of that God, a God bound by no church or creed.”

  • Steve_mcqueen_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    The first amendment now , and the second amendment later , all to unify the "NEW WORLD ORDER" in accordance with the U.N. doctrine of "ONE WORLD , ONE GOVERNMENT".

  • Ba_old_glory_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    Biblically all Christians are to be subject to the governing authorities. Just read Romans 13, as well as numerous quotes by Jesus himself in the gospels. This should be a no brainer for any church. Oh no, I've dared to quote the Bible, how subversive!!!

  • Silver_warrior_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    Not quite sure how a police department (hired by the religious institution) can effect a religious belief. Unless. . . .the officer says, "You have a choice, either convert or you get the ticket. . . ."???? Talk about bastardizing the 1st Amendment.

  • 1979_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    I have mixed feeling about this. It has nothing to do with the fact that the school is 'faith based' or anything of that nature either as they are not enforcing 'religious rules' but rather State laws. They are also State trained and certified so that part does not bother me either. The only part that bothers me is that they are basically "private Police". What is to stop Corp. from having their own police force with powers of arrest off their property in public areas? I just have reservations on things like that. Now if a school or company wants to contract with a city or county to have a sworn city or county cop on their property I have no problem with that.

  • 21_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    Political BS.........

  • Thinker_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    This decision is about as stupid as the recent decision in Utah that the state cannot put out large crosses at locations where troopers are killed in accidents due to separation of church and state, but they can put out smaller crosses. Does the constitution detail exactly the size of crosses that would be acceptable and not a separation of church and state? Our country is going down hill fast especially with these court decisions...

  • 25-1-13-a_1__max50


    almost 5 years ago


    The ruling by this three -judge panel of complete morons is one of the dumbest decisions I have ever heard and their reasoning is just as stupid and backward-thinking. Simply because someone was arrested for DUI by a college police officer from this college in the area of said college which is well within its jurisdiction and all of a sudden, it becomes a problem? In today's world, more than ever, each institution that can afford to field it's own police department, should be able to do so, even if it is a faith-base institution/religious college or university. Officers in these institutions know every corner of their campuses. They get to know the students, faculty and staff and become the front line in enforcement of laws and the protection of those that drive the streets or walk the halls in and around its location. In a Columbine / Virginia Tech like "active shooter" situation, they know their way around the campus better than anyone allowing them to go in and safely engage the threat. The elimination of this department or any other similar department will pave the way for a potential disaster.

  • 711022_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    So could one make a "citizen's arrest" at said college if they witnessed a crime

  • Zombiehunter_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    Too clarify for Baxter2 these officers are not certified security officers. They are Campus Police Officers which means they are certifeid, sworn and commissioned law enforcement officers. They recieve their Law Enforcement Powers from the Chief LEO of the State (NC Attorney General). Even though they are hired and paid by a private institution they do have jurisdiction off of the campus on public roadways as any municipal of county officer would.

  • Thinker_max50


    about 4 years ago


    So who will protect students and visitors at "Religious Colleges?"

  • Battering-ram-full_max50


    about 4 years ago


    Diddo Baxter2 well said

  • Badge__hat_max50


    about 4 years ago


    What discombobulated thinking on this part of this so-called court. Enforcement of the law is connected in no way with establishment of churches or faith based centers of higher education. Laws are enacted by state and local legislators.......not by clergy or congregations. Giving properly trained and certified security officers the authority to enforce laws on private campuses, even those campuses founded in religions doctine, that have been duly enacted by proper legislative authority in no way impedes freedom of religion and in no way acts to establish any particular religion backed by the government. That notion is absurd.

  • Justice-400_max50


    about 4 years ago


    ... Seriously? Does this mean officers shouldn't arrest people in/near/around churches either? Take it to the next court.

PoliceLink School Finder

Save time in your search for a criminal justice degree program. Use PoliceLink's School Finder to locate schools online and in your area.

Get Info

* In the event that we cannot find a program from one of our partner schools that matches your specific area of interest, we may show schools with similar or unrelated programs.