Getting stopped by a policeman for a traffic violation can be an unnerving experience. Motorists become anxious while awaiting a ticket, a warning or, at best, advice on how to drive safely.
Advice from the policeman should stick to providing tips on getting safely to the next destination.
A traffic stop should not become a counseling session on how to get safely to heaven.
But Indiana State Police Senior Trooper Brian Hamilton seemed to sense that his traffic stops could be an opportunity for him to offer a ticket for salvation.
In January, the Pendleton-based trooper pulled over a woman for speeding. The stop was made in her driveway; she couldn’t have backed out if she wanted to. Hamilton asked the female driver if she was saved as a Christian, according to legal documents filed in U.S. District Court.
To avoid more emotional turbulence, she told him that indeed she was saved and attended church. After the incident, she complained to state police officials. This past week, she filed a federal lawsuit against the trooper.
Hamilton might have seen the stop as an opportunity to share his Christian faith. After all, Romans 10:17 encourages evangelizing: “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
But the woman may have seen the encounter as an act of intimidation that went beyond a police officer’s duties.
Hamilton recently was fired. But the termination was not simply over the January incident. He had violated a written order issued in August 2014 as the result of a previous proselytizing incident during a traffic stop.
Back then, Hamilton was counseled, “During the course of his official duties, Hamilton will not question others regarding their religious beliefs nor provide religious pamphlets or similar advertisements.”
He had been warned.
If Hoosiers think Hamilton is being persecuted, they might consider their reaction if a police officer suggested that they follow the teachings of Wicca or Scientology.
Granted, evangelism is an integral part of many religious movements.
But Hamilton’s case has shown that there is a perception to avoid — where ministering crosses into intimidation, where good intentions resurrect bad feelings.
No one given authority by the state to enforce the law should offer a motorist a ticket into heaven. A driver would likely rather accept a traffic ticket.
This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.