A federal judge in Oklahoma has avoided making a determination on whether a police department order for officers to attend an Islamic event violated the constitutional religious rights of the officers.
In a 16-page opinion, Gregory Frizzell said no “reasonable jury” could have found Capt. Paul Fields “was personally ordered to attend” a Muslim mosque event.
The judge argued that Fields could have assigned someone else to attend instead of going himself.
The judge avoided the core First Amendment issues in the Tulsa dispute, stating, “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.”
In the case, spotlighted as an example of “creeping Shariah” in the United States, attorneys for Fields have explained that the officer was ordered to attend or have someone attend an event Muslims admitted was a religious service.
The complaint is against Tulsa Chief Charles Jordan and Deputy Chief Alvin Webster.
Fields sued when he was punished with a two-week unpaid suspension and a demotion for refusing department orders to attend an event at an Islamic mosque in which officers observed Islamic worship services, heard an explanation of Islamic beliefs and were proselytized.
As a Christian, Fields believed the order violated his rights to freely exercise his own faith, but the department determined he was refusing a lawful order and punished him.
The American Freedom Law Center has been representing Fields.
The Frizzell ruling said Jordan and Webster didn’t violate Fields’ constitutional rights because he could have avoided the order to attend the religious event by ordering someone else to go.
Robert Muise, senior counsel for the AFLC, said the ruling is “troubling on many levels” but vowed “this fight is far from over.”
Capt. Paul Fields
“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,” he said.
“We will be appealing this ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.”
The dispute arose in January 2011 when the Islamic Society of Tulsa announced a “law enforcement appreciation day” at its mosque. Mosque officials admitted they deliberately set it up on a Friday so that there would be religious services for the officers to attend.
At first, the event was promoted within the police department as voluntary, but then Webster directed by email that attendance was mandatory.
AFLC reported the email was forwarded to Fields by his supervisor, Julie Harris, and stated, “We are directed by [Webster] to have representatives from each shift – 2nd, 3rd and 4th to attend [the Islamic services].”
Fields said he thought the order would violate his constitutional rights, and he received permission to raise objections and concerns.
With Harris’ permission, Fields responded that he believed the order was unlawful as it conflicted with his religious convictions, but Webster told him to reconsider or face “consequences.”
Webster then transferred Fields to a lower position and ordered him to be investigated by internal affairs.
“The very next day, the Islamic event was made voluntary for Capt. Fields’ former shift,” AFLC reported.
Still, Webster pursued the investigation, telling Fields: “You are hereby notified that Chief Chuck Jordan has requested IA to conduct an administration investigation in regards to your refusal to attend and refusal to assign officers from your shift, who shared your religious beliefs, to attend the ‘Law Enforcement Appreciation Day’ [at the Muslim mosque] on March 4, 2011.”
Officials punished Fields with a two-week unpaid suspension and made his punitive transfer permanent.
AFLC said Jordan testified, “I can’t have a police department where everybody refuses to give – to interact with Muslims because they say it’s their religious reasons.”
Muise said that contrary to the judge’s ruling in the case, “the evidence is undisputed and overwhelming that Capt. 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,” Muise said.
AFLC reported the sworn testimony in the case reveals during the Islamic services “the Muslim hosts discussed Islamic religious beliefs; they discussed Mohammad, 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. Consequently, Capt. Fields’ objections were completely justified and substantiated.”
Muise said it was a tragedy that the city decided to “publicly vilify” Fields by “falsely claiming that his religious objections were motivated by anti-Muslim sentiments.
“The bitter irony is that Capt. Fields was one of the primary officers involved with helping to protect this mosque from a criminal suspect intent on doing harm, and it was this very incident that served as the justification for the ‘appreciation’ event,” Muise said.
Court documents revealed Harris “candidly admitted during her sworn testimony that the police department retaliated against [Fields] for exercising his constitutional rights.”
She told the department’s internal affairs investigation looking into Fields’ actions, “If somebody had some deep, deep, deep religious conviction, and as long as there was no crime that they needed to investigate, there’s no need for me to force this (Islamic mosque attendance) on anybody.”
She concluded that the charges against Fields should not be sustained, according to the brief, and later “was subjected to retaliation” herself because of her statement.
The brief said that during depositions in the dispute, Harris was asked, “Do you believe the department took adverse action against [Fields] for exercising his rights?”
“Yes,” she responded.
She also was asked, “If you believe Capt. Fields had a deeply held religious conviction opposing that order, [then] he would have a right to oppose that order based on that conviction?”
Again, she responded, “Yes.”
The Tulsa Islamic organization has featured speakers such as Imam Siraj Wahhaj, “a Shariah-adherent Muslim who promotes the destruction of Western civilization and the creation of an Islamic caliphate,” according to the lawsuit.