Local News

Methodist College Hazing Case Could Have Far-Reaching Impact

Posted January 20, 2003 5:00 a.m. EST

— A state law may threaten campus police departments at some colleges. The law has to do with separation of church and state and affected a recent hazing case at Methodist College.

The question is whether campus police departments at religious universities have authority to enforce state laws. A state Court of Appeals said no.

As a result, a district attorney dropped criminal charges against some Methodist College students. But legal experts say people should not be so quick to draw wide-reaching conclusions from this case.

"I think if this case goes to the U.S. Supreme Court, we might see a different result," Marshall Dayan said.

Dayan teaches Constitutional Law at North Carolina Central University in Durham. He disagreed with the Appeals Court ruling.

"Whether or not someone is violating some speeding law or some other law, that is not a discretionary call, " Dayan said. "That's simply a police department enforcing the laws that are on the books.

"I think the U.S. Supreme Court would say that religious universities can do that just as well as private and public universities."

As many as 20 college police departments could be affected by the ruling.

"Just because it is partially funded by a religion doesn't necessarily mean it's a religious institution," Dayan said. "There's a much more complicated test.

"Some of these schools may not be religious instituions even though they are affiliated with various religions."

Because a lot of schools do not know whether they qualify under the law as "religious," they are closely watching this case. A spokesman for Duke University says its university counsel is studying the issue carefully.