A woman has filed an $11 million lawsuit against a Hamilton County, Tennessee, sheriff’s deputy for violating her civil rights by forcing her to be baptized during a traffic stop after conducting an invasive strip search.
According to the Chatanooga Times Free Press, deputy Daniel Wilkey was at a gas station where he observed a woman buying cigarettes and fuel. When she left, he followed her to her friend’s driveway and stopped the car without justification, the lawsuit alleges. He then conducted a strip search for, what he later claimed, was a suspicion of methamphetamine possession, and searched her vehicle.
After a search of her vehicle revealed the butt of a marijuana cigarette, the lawsuit alleges that the deputy asked if she had been “saved” and that God was “talking to him during the vehicle search” and he “felt the Lord wanted him to baptize[her].”
He then told her to go inside her friend’s house and grab two towels and that if she allowed him to baptize her he would only cite her for the marijuana and not take her to jail and that he would speak to the judge on her behalf. When she returned, he told her to follow him in her car and they went to a nearby boat ramp at which point another deputy, Jacob Goforth, joined them because Wilkey said “a witness must ‘attest'” to the baptism. He then dunked her in the water. The newspaper reports the weather on February 6 was 55 degrees.
On the same day the baptism suit was filed, the sheriff’s department was sued for an additional $17 million for actions by Wilkey involving the alleged roadside beating and body cavity search of a passenger in a vehicle that he pulled over.
A coerced baptism by a law enforcement officer would constitute a significant religious liberty violation of both the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution in addition to state and local laws.