As previously reported, three years ago, Captain Paul Fields was ordered to attend “Law Enforcement Appreciation Day,” which was hosted by the Islamic Society of Tulsa at a local mosque. The event, 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 Tulsa 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 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.
Last December, District Court Judge Gregory Frizzell, appointed by George W. Bush, threw out Fields’ case, stating that Jordan and Webster had done no wrong.
“[N]o reasonable jury could find Fields was personally ordered to attend,” Frizzell wrote in the decision. “[T]he directive at issue permitted him to assign others to attend rather than attend himself.”
On Thursday, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Frizzell, stating that Fields’ religious rights were not violated.
“The order did not violate the Establishment Clause because no informed, reasonable observer would have perceived the order or the event as a government endorsement of Islam,” wrote Judge Harris Hartz, nominated to the bench by then-president George W. Bush. “The Establishment Clause does not prohibit governmental efforts to promote tolerance, understanding and neighborliness. There is no evidence in the record of any attempts to convert officers to Islam, as opposed to providing information.”
“The Attendance Order did not burden Fields’s religious rights because it did not require him to violate his personal religious beliefs by attending the event.” he continued on behalf of the three-judge panel. “He could have obeyed the order by ordering others to attend, and he has not contended on appeal that he had informed his supervisors that doing so would have violated his religious beliefs.”
Attorney Robert Muise of the American Freedom Law Center, which has been representing Fields, has vowed to appeal the decision. He also noted that Fields had informed his superiors that he did not wish to send any subordinates to the event who shared his Christian faith, and stated that he could not attend himself.
“This ruling is troubling on so many levels,” he wrote in a press release following the ruling. “We have argued throughout this case that Captain Fields was summarily punished for simply raising and asserting a religious objection to the order mandating attendance at the Islamic event, and that such discriminatory treatment violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.”
“Indeed, even a cursory review of our briefing before the district court and in the appellate court makes clear the basis for Captain Fields’ constitutional claims: he was singled out for discriminatory treatment and thus punished because he raised a religious objection to the order,” he added. “That is religious discrimination, pure and simple.”