Court: Davidson College can keep police force
by Staff Writer
The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled last week that Davidson College could keep its police force, ending a nearly six-year dispute that has snaked its way through the state’s court system.
The trials began when Julie Anne Yencer, who was arrested in 2006 on a DWI charge by a Davidson campus police officer, claimed the school shouldn’t be allowed to have a police force since it is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, essentially a violation of separation of church and state.
The court disagreed in its Nov. 10 ruling, saying, “Davidson College is not a church but a private liberal arts college,” according to the decision.
Davidson College is primarily an educational institute, with its Presbyterian affiliations only peripherally influencing its operations. The police force, the court held, operates under the Campus Police Act. It enforces laws, not religious ideas. It also regulates campus police forces.
“There are two levels of regulation,” outside legal counsel for Davidson College Brad Kutrow, of the law firm McGuireWoods, said. “The Campus Police Acts regulates certification of campus police departments. Individual officers must be qualified and commissioned by the state.”
This act empowers Davidson College Public Safety to exist without mixing church and state.
A statute, like the Campus Police Act at issue in this case, must meet three criteria to not violate the Establishment Clause. It must have a secular legislative purpose, its primary effect must not inhibit or advance religion, and it must not excessively entangle government and religion, according to the Lemon v. Kurtzman decision applied in this case.
It was undisputed in this case that the Campus Police Act had a non-religious purpose – to provide police protection to students and faculty at all institutions of higher education.
In terms of the second criteria, the court holds that when the government aids an institution, that aid must benefit the secular aspects of that organization, not its religious activities. In this case, the law enforcement power that the government delegates to the college police force does not mix with the religious activities of the college.
Davidson College is not a predominantly religious institution – religion is not a qualification for students or faculty. The government delegating police powers to the college benefits the safety of its students and faculty, not their religion.
Put short, the college does not meet the legal definition of a religious institution.
“What Davidson is, is a college with a denominational affiliation. It’s not a religious institution as that term has been used in case law,” generally referring to a house of worship, Kutrow said. “The Campus Police Act makes the option of a campus police department open to all colleges of whatever type.”
Davidson College Public Safety Officer Wesley Wilson arrested Yencer on Jan. 5, 2006 and charged her with driving while impaired and reckless driving.
Yencer filed a motion to suppress the charge, claiming that, as a religious institution, Davidson College’s police force violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” the basis for the separation of church and state.
Yencer’s trial court denied her motion, but a court of appeals in August of last year agreed with her, ruling that Davidson College is a religious institution. The appellate court, however, urged the N.C. Supreme Court to review the decision, settling the question for the entire state.