The city of Louisville, Kentucky, has agreed to pay a police officer $75,000 in a legal settlement after the officer was punished for attending a pro-life demonstration outside of an abortion clinic while off duty.
Last October, Matthew Schrenger filed a complaint against Louisville Metro Police Department Chief Erika Shields and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer after being suspended for attending a prayer vigil outside EMW Women’s Surgical Center last February.
The Thomas More Society, a conservative legal nonprofit representing Schrenger, issued a statement last Thursday confirming that the settlement had been reached.
Thomas More Society Senior Counsel Matt Heffron said that the punishment doled out to Schrenger was hypocritical, given that other Louisville police officers had participated in marches and demonstrations of a political nature with impunity.
“The unfair discipline revealed undeniably content-based discrimination against Officer Schrenger’s personal pro-life views and violated his First Amendment rights,” stated Heffron.
“He was treated very differently than other officers who had undeniably engaged in true political protest and activism while participating in LGBT and Black Lives Matter demonstrations.”
Schrenger and his father attended a prayer vigil outside of EMW Women’s Surgical Center abortion clinic to participate in a pro-life event known as the “40 Days for Life.”
Thomas More Society contends that Schrenger faced public scrutiny after photos emerged on a Twitter account run by “abortion promoters” tied to the clinic.
The police department quickly found out about Schrenger’s involvement in the event. The 13-year veteran of the force was accused of “protesting” at the clinic. He was suspended for over four months with pay, stripped of his authority and placed under investigation.
Schrenger denied the accusation that he was protesting. He maintains that the gathering he attended was peaceful and only involved praying outside the clinic before it opened.
Schrenger filed his lawsuit against Shields Fischer in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, Louisville Division.
“The Defendants subjected the Plaintiff to suspension and related mistreatment, because the Plaintiff, while off duty, engaged in quiet prayer on a public sidewalk in front of an abortion clinic,” stated the lawsuit.
“The Plaintiff’s right to speak freely and honestly is fully protected even if the Defendants disapprove of the Plaintiff’s pro-life views. The central role of the First Amendment is to protect the right of individuals to speak of their beliefs and views, particularly when the government disapproves.”
The clinic staff claimed to local media outlet WDRB that Schrenger’s presence, as he was in uniform and armed, was intimidating to staff members and patients. Surveillance footage showed that Schrenger arrived in his police cruiser and at one point held up a sign that reads, “pray to end abortion,” WDRB reports.