OKLAHOMA police captain Paul Fields was ordered last year to attend a “Law Enforcement Appreciation Day,” which was hosted by the Islamic Society of Tulsa at a local mosque.
He refused to go, saying that the event was not “a police call to service” and that:
Being forced to enter a mosque when it is not directly related to a police call for service is a violation of my civil rights.
According to this report, as a result of his refusal. Fields was demoted and reassigned to a different department, suspended for two weeks without pay and prohibited from being promoted for one year.
He took the matter to court, and lost.
Last Friday District Court Judge Gregory Frizzell dismissed his case.
Earlier, the Tulsa Police Department issued a statement following expressions of outrage from supporters of the captain, a professed Christian.
One of the Department’s missions is that of community outreach. To facilitate this effort, the Police Department determined this event was a community outreach opportunity and attendance was appropriate. Contrary to what may have already been reported in scheduling this event, the Police Department and the Islamic Society of Tulsa very deliberately arranged attendance so that officers need not participate in any religious discussion or observance that would create any discomfort or inconvenience for them.
However, Fields believed that he was still being required to partake in ways that violated his convictions, whether it included joining in the prayers and sermons or not.
He subsequently filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Tulsa, Chief Charles Jordan and Deputy Chief Alan Webster.
Judge Frizzell threw out Fields’ case, stating that Jordan and Webster had done no wrong.
No reasonable jury could find Fields was personally ordered to attend. The directive at issue permitted him to assign others to attend rather than attend himself.
Jordan and Webster’s desire to ensure attendance at the Islamic Society’s Appreciation Day similar to other outreach events is understandable given their concern that differing treatment might have violated the Establishment Clause by appearing to disapprove of Islam.
However, Fields’ attorneys with the American Freedom Law Center say they find the ruling to be extremely unsettling. Robert Muise, co-founder and senior counsel of the Center said:
This ruling is troubling on many levels. Contrary to the judge’s ruling in this case, the evidence is undisputed and overwhelming that Captain Fields was punished for merely raising a religious objection to the mandatory order, and this included punishing him for refusing to attend the Islamic proselytizing event based on his sincerely held religious convictions. In short, the judge simply got it wrong.
As the sworn testimony in the case demonstrated, during the Islamic event, the Muslim hosts discussed Islamic religious beliefs. They discussed Mohammed, Mecca, why Muslims pray, how they pray, and what they say when they are praying. They showed the officers a Quran, and they showed the officers Islamic religious books and pamphlets that were for sale, and encouraged the officers to purchase them. Consequently, Captain Fields’ objections were completely justified and substantiated.
Captain Fields, a dedicated and loyal public servant, deserves better treatment than this. Judge Frizzell may have been the first judge to review and decide the important constitutional issues at stake in this case, but he won’t be the last.
Fields’ case will be appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. He has 30 days to file.