N.C. Court: Gov't Can't Empower Religious College's Police Force

A North Carolina private college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 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 of the court agreed unanimously 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.

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 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," he added.

As the ruling was unanimous, there is no automatic appeal to the state Supreme Court. If an appeal is sought, however, Judges Donna Stroud and Cheri Beasley urged the North Carolina 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 spokeswoman Stacey Schmeidel said the school is "analyzing the court's opinion to determine its full implications."

Davidson, a school of 1,800 students, is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and requires more than half of the trustees to be active members in the denomination

It also consistently ranks among the best liberal arts schools in the country.