Oklahoma Police Captain Punished for Refusing to Participate in Islamic Worship Service Files Suit
A police captain that was punished for refusing to participate in an Islamic worship service is awaiting a ruling from a federal court after attorneys filed a motion this week for summary judgment.
Captain Paul Fields of Tulsa, Oklahoma was ordered last year to attend “Law Enforcement Appreciation Day” hosted by the Islamic Society of Tulsa at a local mosque. The event, which was to be held on an Islamic holy day, was to include a tour of the mosque, an Islamic prayer service, lectures on the Islamic faith and meetings with local Muslim leaders.
Because Fields is a Christian, he felt uncomfortable with attending the event, which was not an official police function. He reportedly met with his superiors to express his concerns and outline why he believed that it was unlawful for the Tulsa Police Department to force him to attend.
“This event is not a police ‘call for service,’ which I would readily respond to as required by my oath of office,” Fields wrote in an email. “It is my opinion, and that of my legal counsel, that forcing me to enter a mosque when it is not directly related to a police call for service is a violation of my civil rights.”
“This is not about religion,” said Police Chief Charles Jordan. “[W]e’re not going because they’re Islamic; we’re going because they’re Tulsa citizens.”
Fields was placed under official investigation for refusing to attend the event.
When Fields did not show up at the mosque as per the order, he was forthrightly punished. Fields was demoted and reassigned to a different department, suspended for two weeks without pay and prohibited from being promoted for one year.
The police department issued a statement as a result of outrage from supporters of the captain.
“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,” it stated. “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 believes that he was still required to partake in ways that violated his convictions, whether it included joining in the prayers and sermons or not.
“[The Islamic event] was a staged propaganda event to proselytize and use uniformed police officers as props,” stated the Thomas More Law Center, one of the two legal organizations that is representing Fields. “The mosque’s plan: photograph officers in the mosque eating and socializing with Muslim leaders for the media and their website. All of this would establish the mosque’s credibility in the community despite its terrorist ties.”
Fields subsequently filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Tulsa, Chief Charles Jordan and Deputy Chief Alan Webster.
On Tuesday, after spending months poring through documents requested in the legal discovery process, the American Freedom Law Center (AFLC) filed a motion for partial summary judgment. Summary judgment is requested in cases where there is no dispute of the facts.
“In light of the undisputed facts and controlling law, Captain Fields is entitled to a judgment in his favor that the City and its senior police officials violated his clearly established constitutional rights by ordering him to engage in conduct that was contrary to his Christian beliefs and then punishing him for not obeying the unlawful order,” stated AFLC senior counsel Robert Muise. “In fact, during discovery, Captain Field’s immediate supervisor, Major Julie Harris, admitted in her sworn deposition that the police department retaliated against Captain Fields for exercising his rights.”
Granting summary judgment would mean that the federal court would rule in Fields’ favor. A decision will likely come in the next several months.
Other aspects of the case will head to a jury trial, which is scheduled for December.