An atheist police officer in Puerto Rico filed a lawsuit on Friday for discrimination after allegedly being fired due to his refusal to participate in Christian prayer while on duty.
The 14-year veteran of the Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD), Alvin Marrero-Méndez, claims in the lawsuit filed on Friday that he suffered severe mental distress, anguish, humiliation, and shame, causing him to seek professional psychological help due to what he perceives as retaliation within the department. The defendants listed are employees, agents, and supervisors within the PRPD.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed the lawsuit on Marrero-Méndez's behalf. William Ramirez, executive director of the ACLU of Puerto Rico said in a statement, "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 U.S. Constitution and the Puerto Rico Constitution, which mandate separation of church and state."
In the lawsuit Marrero-Méndez alleges that before the events, his professional duties included patrolling, attending to complaints, conducting arrests, dealing with the public, and undertaking other crime-prevention activities. Now he claims that his duties have been those of a car-washer and messenger after refusing to participate in Christian prayer that a superior called for. He also says that he was asked to hand over his weapon because he was allegedly in an "emotional state" after crying on the way to his duty assignment after the incident.
During the alleged event, Marrero-Méndez's Carolina Area Commander gathered over 40 police officers of the region in the parking lot at the Plaza Carolina Shopping Mall to discuss an intervention plan for the area. After the briefing, there was a request from a superior officer for a volunteer to close the meeting with a prayer. According to Marrero-Méndez, he told the superior officer that he objects to the prayers because of its Christian basis, and that he did not want to participate. He stated that this caused the superior officer to become upset, ordering Marrero-Méndez to abandon the formation.
Marrero-Méndez stated in the court document that as he was walking away, the superior officer said that he should "stop and stand still until the prayer was finished," and he complied.
There is a section in the lawsuit named, "PRAYER FOR RELIEF." It reads, "WHEREFORE, Plaintiff respectfully prays that this Honorable Court declare that Defendants' conduct was illegal…" The prayer for relief is asking for the court to prohibit the defendants from asking officers to prayer or any other form of proselytizing while officers are on duty.
Director of Ten-Four Ministries and Tulsa Police Captain, Travis Yates, told The Christian Post on Monday, "To be clear, we should never force anyone to say a prayer. This is a special time with the Lord Jesus Christ and that cannot be forced." He went on to say, "Obviously, no one should be retaliated against for their beliefs no matter what those beliefs are. Atheism is a belief just as I believe in Jesus."
Ten-Four Ministries provides support to law enforcement officers across the world while bringing the Gospel to the first responder community. Yates said, "It is much more common for Christian officers to suffer for their faith in the workplace whether it is overt by management or the officers around them. They must understand that this is going to happen regardless of the workplace. All you have to do is look at first century Christianity. It was never designed to be safe. A Christian will suffer. A Christian will have marks of their faith. It makes what we believe true by the fact that Jesus Himself tells us this will be."
Yates says, "We should reach [atheist] with the Gospel and if that can't be accomplished on duty, then off duty. We do that by loving and forgiving and proclaiming Christ crucified for our sins."
Marrero-Méndez is asking for restoration of his regular job duties along with an award for compensatory and general damages, an award for exemplary and punitive damages, as well as his costs, expenses, and attorneys' fees with pre-judgment interest.