Updated Wednesday 3 p.m.
The N.C. Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that Davidson College’s campus police cannot enforce state laws because it is a religious school. Citing precedents and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the court said the N.C. Attorney General’s office improperly certified the department for law enforcement.
Davidson College said Wednesday afternoon that state officials have assured the college the ruling has no immediate effect on the status of the campus police officers.
Tuesday’s ruling stemmed from a January 2006 case in which a campus police officer stopped a driver on a road near campus. The defendant, who was charged with driving while intoxicated and reckless driving, initially pleaded guilty. But in August 2008, she filed an appeal, arguing that the campus police lacked the authority to arrest her.
All of Davidson’s campus police are commissioned as law enforcement officers by the state Attorney General. But the court said the attorney general erred in certifying the campus police, because Davidson is a religious school, at least as defined in previous court rulings.
The court cited rulings against Campbell University and Pfeiffer University in its decision.
Davidson is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church of the USA, and half its 44 trustees are appointed by the college and confirmed by presbyteries. But it does not educate clergy or impose religious requirements on students or faculty.
The court said it was bound by precedents and “compelled to conclude that Davidson College is a religious institution. … Accordingly, we hold that the delegation of police power to Davidson College … is an unconstitutional delegation of ‘an important discretionary governmental power’ to a religious institution in the context of the First Amendment.”
Davidson does not have an automatic right of appeal to the N.C. Supreme Court, but the court suggested there might be grounds for an appeal. “There is evidence on the record to show that Davidson College is not a religious institution” as defined in the law.” The court said it would urge the Supreme Court to review the case.
Davidson College issued a statement Tuesday afternoon saying: “We are analyzing the Court’s opinion to determine its full implications. We will be talking with the Attorney General’s Office regarding the potential review of this decision by the North Carolina Supreme Court, as the Court of Appeals seems to urge in its ruling.”
Download the ruling (PDF) from the court of appeals website, CLICK HERE>
CLARIFICATION: This article was updated 8/28/10 to clarify that Davidson’s trustees are appointed by the college. Some trustees are confirmed – not appointed – by presbyteries.