TULSA, Okla. – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Oklahoma filed a friend-of-the-court brief yesterday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, arguing that a police officer does not have a religious right to refuse assignments simply because they require him to serve people who do not share his faith.
The Islamic Society of Tulsa held a Law Enforcement Appreciation Day in 2011 to thank local police for protecting the center after it received threats during the previous year. As part of the department's community policing initiative, Capt. Paul Fields was directed to attend, or send officers from his division to attend the event. Fields refused, claiming that to attend or to send officers to the event would violate his religious beliefs, which require him to proselytize anyone who does not share his Christian faith.
"As a police officer, Capt. Fields is bound to serve the entire community, regardless of whether or not they share his beliefs," said Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the ACLU of Oklahoma. "His refusal to attend an event hosted by members of the community because they happen to be Muslims is discrimination, pure and simple."
The brief states that the First Amendment requires public servants to serve all individuals and groups of every religious tradition without discriminating against or favoring any particular faith.
The brief notes that Fields' claim would allow him to, for example, refuse to guard a Sikh temple that has been targeted for violence, provide a police presence at a war protest organized by religious groups and featuring speakers of any non-Christian faith, give a presentation on safety and crime prevention to students at a Catholic school, conduct foot patrols of a neighborhood with a large Orthodox Jewish population, or come to the aid of an injured woman wearing a hijab.
"Capt. Fields is certainly entitled to his own, deeply held beliefs, but while on duty, he simply has no right to ignore or abandon those of other faiths," said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. "The idea that an officer can pick and choose whom he will assist based on what they believe strikes at the heart of our most cherished constitutional values of religious liberty and equality."
The community event was described as a "casual come and go atmosphere" with a buffet of "American and Ethnic foods" and optional tours of the mosque and an opportunity to observe a prayer service. Officers were not required, however, to participate in any of these activities or even be on site during the prayer service.
The Tulsa Police Department regularly attends community outreach events hosted by religious organizations or held at religious venues of various faiths.
A copy of the brief can be seen at: