The North Carolina Supreme Court just held in State v. Yencer that the North Carolina Campus Police Act as applied to the specific defendant doesn’t violate the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution.
This lawsuit arises as a result of an officer at Davidson College arresting an individual (the defendant) for driving while impaired. The legal issue was whether it was constitutional for Davidson College Campus Police to be given police power since Davidson College is a religiously affiliated institution.
The Court provides a clear and methodical analysis as to why the law as applied to the defendant is constitutional. Of particular importance was the Court’s conclusion that delegated police power didn’t create an excessive entanglement between church and state. The purpose of the delegation of power needs to be secular in nature. The Court found that Davidson College wasn’t a “religious institution” and the delegation was neutral and secular:
Davidson College’s secular, educational mission predominates. While a reading of Davidson’s statement of purpose shows that the College is church affiliated, the statement also shows that the College is not a “predominantly religious” institution.
Further, it was important to the Court that Davidson College, under the Campus Police Act, was only enforcing state and federal law, “not campus policies or religious rules.” Judicial review also was important, “Further, any arrests made by campus police officers are ‘reviewable by the General Court of Justice and the federal courts.’” These factors ensured that the delegated power was secular in nature and protected against excessive entanglement between church and state.
What are the implications of the case?
It’s important to remember that this case is only an application of the Campus Police Act to one particular institution. It is possible that if an institution was far more religious in nature, the delegation of police power could be problematic. However, given the Court’s analysis, it would likely take a lot for there to be constitutional problems.