A veteran Middletown, Pennsylvania, police officer has been suspended from work for 10 days for attending church while on active duty. He claims, however, that his constitutional right to religious freedom is being "infringed upon" by his supervisor and may sue.
Patrol Officer Mark Hovan has been with the Middletown Police Department since 1998, but last week the borough council voted 4-1 to approve a 10-day suspension recommended by his supervisor, Chief George Mouchette, according to the Press & Journal.
Hovan told PennLive that he is now considering taking legal action because he believes the suspension is a violation of his religious freedom.
He admitted that he went to services twice in uniform last month at the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church in Middletown while on duty but was always available for calls. He also said previous police chiefs had allowed him and other officers to attend church on work time and it was never a problem.
On Oct. 27, 2017, Hovan told the Press & Journal that he had received a letter from Mouchette requesting a Nov. 7 meeting to allow him to respond to charges associated with his church attendance.
The four detailed charges highlighted Neglect of Duty/Inefficiency related to his attendance at church on Aug. 15, 2017.
Hovan, who describes himself as a devout Catholic, said it was necessary for him to occasionally attend church while on duty due to shift changes and his obligation to his faith. He said he has never missed a call in all his years of service while at church and noted that it wasn't until Mouchette arrived in the department in early January 2017 that it became a problem.
He said Mouchette warned him about his church attendance while on duty after he attended a 10:30 a.m. mass at Seven Sorrows in Middletown on Jan. 8, 2017. He was ordered to "never conduct personal business on Middletown Police Department time."
When Mouchette confronted him about attending church while on duty on Aug. 15, Mouchette said he told him the truth and confessed to attending church while on duty.
"I never lied about it," Hovan said.
An internal investigation was then launched which eventually led to the charges.
Councilor Diana McGlone was the only one to abstain on what she said was the "advice" of Solicitor Adam Santucci.
Councilor Robert Reid, who served as the borough's mayor for many years and had been in charge of the police department for many years, said while action should have been taken against Hovan for disobeying his supervisor, he did not support the suspension.
"I think there should be some action taken, but I can't go along with the 10 days," Reid said.
In 2012, Hovan was briefly promoted to chief of the MPD but he resigned six months later in January 2013.