Alvin Marrero-Mendez, a 14-year veteran police officer and atheist, filed a lawsuit against his superiors on Friday, March 8, claiming that he was stripped of his weapon and reassigned from police work to washing cars and relaying messages when he refused to take part in compulsory Christian prayers while on the job.
The complaint alleges that Mendez’s superior officers often engaged in religious activities during precinct meetings, including an officially sponsored prayer. Specifically, it alleges that officer Mendez was asked to give a prayer before a group of officers and when he refused, he was told to leave formation and stand in front of his peers while a superior officer mocked him for rejecting Christianity.
ABC reports the ACLU is seeking a court order to stop the alleged retaliation, stating that forced prayer in a government workplace violates the doctrine of separation of church and state as well as Mendez's religious freedom.
AP reports the lawsuit is one of the first cases of its kind filed in the deeply religious U.S. territory, where 85 percent of the people consider themselves Roman Catholic and a large minority is Protestant.
In court documents concerning the alleged discrimination the Puerto Rico chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said the following:
When department supervisors engage in these unconstitutional activities, they subject the officers under their command to unwelcome indoctrination and religious messages, creating a tense and hostile work environment and harming the community as a whole by sending a divisive message of religious favoritism for those who adhere to the supervisors’ preferred faith.
William Ramirez, executive director of the ACLU of Puerto Rico, said:
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.