A youth who argued that Brigham Young University police officers violated the U.S. Constitution when they cited him for drinking alcohol off campus has lost his court fight because of a procedural error.
But officials of the American Civil Liberties Union, which defended the youth, say they are not finished in their quest to change what they consider to be a violation of the separation of church and state.The youth, referred to in court documents only as M.S., lost his fight when a three-judge panel of the Utah Court of Appeals ruled Friday that he could not raise issues in his appeal that he failed to raise in the original trial.
Because of the procedural error, the judges rejected the appeal without considering whether the arrest violated the Constitution.
The youth was convicted of underage alcohol consumption. He did not use an attorney during the juvenile court trial, nor did he challenge the constitutionality of his arrest until he decided to appeal.
Utah ACLU Executive Director Michele A. Parish-Pixler said Monday she is anxious to find a similar case the ACLU can use to persuade the courts to overturn the law.
"We have to look for a case with stronger facts," she said.
BYU officials have argued the matter is not a church-state issue.
The youth was arrested June 29, 1988, while sitting with several friends in the back of a parked pickup truck at a convenience store in Provo. A BYU officer approached the truck to tell the driver his headlights were out. He smelled alcohol and asked the youth to blow in his face. The youth admitted to drinking one beer, and the officer issued a misdemeanor citation. The youth was 16 at the time.
Last June, the ACLU filed a brief on behalf of the youth, contending that a law that gives campus police powers off campus is unconstitutional.
Parish-Pixler said the law establishes a private religious police force, accountable to BYU's owner - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - and "unconstitutionally authorized to enforce laws throughout the state."
The ACLU said it is not opposed to officers employed by the university doing whatever is required on the campus.