Tulsa, Oklahoma — A federal judge appointed by George W. Bush has dismissed the case of a police captain that had filed suit against the Tulsa Police Department after it punished him for refusing to attend an event at an Islamic mosque.
As previously reported, Captain Paul Fields was ordered last year 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.
On Friday, 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.”
The judge then opted not to review Fields’ constitutional claims in light of his conclusion.
“The issue of whether a directive requiring his personal attendance at the event would have violated his First Amendment rights need not be decided here,” he opined. “Fields’s claimed Free Exercise clause violation concerns the right to not be forced by his municipal employer to send other individuals to a community event at a mosque. Given the notable lack of cases cited involving even remotely similar circumstances, such a right — if it exists — was not well established.”
“Thus, defendants in their individual capacities are entitled to qualified immunity,” Frizzell continued. “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 state that they find the ruling to be extremely unsettling.
“This ruling is troubling on many levels,” Robert Muise, co-founder and senior counsel of the Center, stated following the issuance of the decision. “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,” the organization further outlined in a written statement. “Consequently, Captain Fields’ objections were completely justified and substantiated.”
“Captain Fields, a dedicated and loyal public servant, deserves better treatment than this,” Muise added. “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.