Guns and God don't mix
DAVIDSON, N.C.—Institutions of higher education with religious affiliations, and religious institutions in general, will have to redefine the powers delegated to the sworn police officers they employ if a recent North Carolina court’s decision stands.
On Aug. 17, a North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled that sworn police officers employed by Davidson College do not have arresting or enforcement powers because the college has a religious affiliation. The court ruling stated that “a state may not delegate an important discretionary governmental power to a religious institution or share such power with a religious institution.”
Davidson College is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America.
The case arose after a Davidson police officer stopped a woman, Julie Anne Yencer, who was not a student of the college. She was arrested for driving while impaired and reckless driving on a street adjacent to campus on Jan. 5, 2006. According to the case, State of North Carolina v. Julie Anne Yencer, on June 21, 2006 she initially pled guilty, but then on June 27, 2006 submitted a written notice of appeal to the superior court.
Last week, on Aug. 19, the Attorney General's Office informed Davidson College that it plans to seek a stay that would allow the police department to keep operating, said Stacey Schmeidel, associate vice president for college communications at Davidson College, in an interview with Security Director News. “We are working closely with the Attorney General to figure out appropriate action and to make sure our officers are doing what they should be doing,” she said.
While this case remains only pertinent in North Carolina, the precedent could have potential implications for other institutions of higher learning with religious affiliations. “What this case says is that you can’t delegate a law enforcement function to a religiously-affiliated school,” Charlotte defense attorney James Wyatt told a North Carolina news outlet.
Christopher Blake, associate director for the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, agreed that this ruling could have larger repercussions across the educational security sector. “While this particular ruling impacts religious-affiliated colleges in North Carolina, it could have a tremendous impact if applied more broadly across the U.S.,” he said. “IACLEA believes that institutions of higher education should have public safety agencies that are staffed by trained professionals. Those professionals should be equipped with the resources to do their job.”
Rendering schools with religious affiliation unable to employ fully sworn law enforcement officers could potentially threaten the safety and security of students and staff and force such institutions to rely more heavily on local law enforcement departments.