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DENVER – A panel of federal judges in Denver, in an opinion written by Judge Harris Hartz, found that it is perfectly appropriate for a police chief to order subordinates to attend an Islamic mosque where Muslims “discussed Islamic beliefs, Muhammad, Mecca, and why and how Muslims pray” in addition to encouraging officers “to buy” Islamic books and pamphlets that were for sale.
The ruling came on Thursday from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a case brought by Capt. Paul Fields, who had been ordered by Tulsa police officials to either go to a special event at the local mosque himself, or order others to do that.
Fields refused based on religious freedom objections and was punished for that.
The judges on the 10th Circuit panel said that was perfectly appropriate.
“This ruling is troubling on so many levels,” said Robert Muise, of the American Freedom Law Center, which has pursued the case since it developed several years ago.
“We have argued throughout this case that Capt. Fields was summarily punished for simply raising and asserting a religious objection to the order mandating attendance at the Islamic event, and that such discriminatory treatment violates the First and 14th Amendments,” he said. “Yet, inexplicably, the 10th Circuit refused to address this main issue on appeal, claiming that it was not raised below.
“The court is wrong, and we intend to seek full court review of this patently erroneous decision,” he said.
The case was brought by the AFLC on behalf of Fields against Tulsa, Police Chief Chuck Jordan and Deputy Chief Daryl Webster.
The court ruling “noted that Capt. Fields’ briefs asserted that the city’s ‘reason for imposing punishment, or at least the reason for the severity of the punishment, was the religious nature of Fields’ objection to the order.’ The appellate court further noted that ‘there is evidence in the record that would support this assertion. Some statements by TPD officials suggest that at least part of the motive for punishing Fields was that he posed a religious objection to the order and refused to attend the mosque event on religious grounds.’ Yet, the court refused to address the issue on appeal, claiming ‘that it was not preserved in the district court.’ Instead, the court avoided this central issue and simply held, as did the district court, that the order ‘did not burden Fields’ religious rights because it did not require him to violate his personal religious beliefs by attending the eventβ¦,'” the AFLC said.
“It is impossible to square the court’s opinion with the briefs and the record presented on appeal. Indeed, even a cursory review of our briefing before the district court and in the appellate court makes clear the basis for Capt. Fields’ constitutional claims: he was singled out for discriminatory treatment and thus punished because he raised a religious objection to the order. That is religious discrimination, pure and simple,” the AFLC said.
The police department executives had promised they would send officers to the mosque for Muslims to talk to them about the Quran, Muhammad and their other beliefs, but were unable to find volunteers. So they issued an order making attendance mandatory.
Fields objected, telling officials, “Please consider this email my official notification to the Tulsa Police Department and the City of Tulsa that I intend not to follow this directive, nor require any of my subordinates to do so if they share similar religious convictions.”
Police officials immediately launched an internal affairs investigation which resulted in a two-week suspension for Fields, and a permanent demotion.
“When Chief Jordan was asked directly during his sworn deposition whether it was his ‘understanding that [he] could have accommodated Captain Fields’ religious objections to this event if [he] had made it voluntary for him,’ the chief responded, ‘Yeah. According to his e-mail, yes, I could have,'” the AFLC said.
Capt. Paul Fields
Even the formal disciplinary statement said, “Capt. Fields was disciplined during this rating period for refusing to attend and refusing to direct that officers attend a law enforcement appreciation day at a local mosque.”
“The evidence is overwhelming that the city and its senior police officials wanted to make an example of Capt. Fields by harshly punishing him, a Christian, for objecting on religious grounds to an order compelling attendance at an Islamic event,” said David Yerushalmi, co-founder for the AFLC.
“Consequently, when judges can rewrite the case and the case history to fit the conclusion they seek, as the 10th Circuit has done here, due process is robbed of any meaning,” he said.
“Had a Muslim officer objected to attending a Jewish event to be held at a synagogue on a Saturday and the officer was treated like Capt. Fields, there is little doubt that the entire Tulsa Police Department chain of command would have been fired,” Yerushalmi said.
“As the 10th Circuit acknowledged in its opinion, the undisputed record evidence demonstrated that during the Islamic event, which was held on a Friday β the ‘Sabbath’ for Muslims β the Muslim hosts discussed Islamic religious beliefs; they discussed Muhammad, 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. Moreover, after the event, the Islamic Society posted on its website a photograph of the police officers sitting at a table with members of the mosque with the caption, ‘Discover Islam Classes for Non-Muslims,”‘ AFLC reported.
The AFLC noted that Fields just prior to the religious event, “was one of the primary officers involved with helping to protect this mosque from a criminal suspect intent on doing harm.”
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.