Atheist cop sues for damages after being humiliated and demoted for refusing to pray

ALVIN Marrero-Mendez, who clocked up 14 years of service as a police officer in San Juan, Puerto Rico, this week brought a law suit against his bosses, alleging that he was reassigned from police work to washing cars and relaying messages when he refused to participate in a compulsory Christian prayer.

According to this report, his complaint  alleges that Marrero-Mendez’s superior officers often engaged in religious activities during precinct meetings, including an officially sponsored prayer.

Stock photo of a group of Puerto Rican police

Stock photo of a group of Puerto Rican police

Specifically, it alleges that officer Mendez was asked to give a prayer before a group of officers and when he refused, he was told to leave formation and stand in front of his peers while a superior officer mocked him for rejecting Christianity.

The Puerto Rico chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union elaborated in court documents:

When Department supervisors engage in these unconstitutional activities, they subject the officers under their command to unwelcome indoctrination and religious messages, creating a tense and hostile work environment and harming the community as a whole by sending a divisive message of religious favoritism for those who adhere to the supervisors’ preferred faith.

The complaint adds that Mendez is:

An open atheist, and as such, does not subscribe to the Christian faith or any other religious doctrine.

He values his right to adopt no religious beliefs as much as others surely value their right to follow a particular faith. He is deeply offended by and objects to the Defendants’ official religious practices because these practices promote beliefs with which he does not agree. Plaintiff further objects to these practices because they are religiously coercive in that they pressure him to participate in prayer and worship.

The suit alleges that former police commander Guillermo Calixto-Rodríguez ordered Mendez to abandon a formation of fellow officers after Mendez voiced opposition to giving a Christian prayer.

As Plaintiff was walking away, Defendant Calixto-Rodríguez shouted that Plaintiff should stop and stand still until the prayer was finished. Then, in front of the entire formation, Defendant Guillermo Calixto-Rodríguez shouted that Plaintiff was standing apart from everyone else because ‘he doesn’t believe in what we believe’.

Plaintiff felt humiliated and turned his back to the formation until the prayer, which was explicitly Christian, ended.

It goes on to say the incident reduced Mendez to tears, and he vowed to raise the issue with a higher authority. When he did, he was allegedly reassigned to washing cars and relaying messages, often times in the dead of night or in the hottest hours of the afternoon. He also claims that his weekly day off has since been “capriciously denied” without any justification.

William Ramirez, executive director of the ACLU of Puerto Rico, said:

Government agencies cannot require employees to take part in prayer in their workplace,. To do so runs afoul of one of the great pillars of both the US Constitution and the Puerto Rico Constitution, which mandate separation of church and state.

Marrero-Mendez and ACLU have picked a pight with a force not known for its tolerance of people who step out of line.  In 2011 The US Justice Department issued a report which said that police in Puerto Rico routinely use excessive force that unnecessarily injuries hundreds of people and kills others.

The report accuses the 17,000-member Puerto Rico Police Department – the second-largest US police department – of regularly “using force, including deadly force, when no force or lesser force was called for,” unnecessarily injuring hundreds of people and killing “numerous others”.

Oh, and they are pretty damned corrupt as well. More than 1,700 officers were arrested on corruption charges between 2005 and 2010.