Rights Of Tulsa Officer In Mosque Lawsuit Were Not Violated, Appeals Court Says
TULSA, Oklahoma - The 10th U.S. Circuit of Appeals ruled on Thursday that a Tulsa police officer's constitutional rights were not violated when he went against a superior's order to attend a 2010 event at a mosque.
TPD Capt. Paul Fields filed suit against the department, chief Chuck Jordan and deputy chief Alvin Webster after he was suspended from the force and placed on the graveyard shift following an internal investigation.
Fields claimed his suspension violated his religious rights because he was punished after he was told to either attend or order subordinates to attend a law enforcement appreciation event hosted by the Islamic Society of Tulsa.
In 2012, a judge denied Fields' request to amend the complaint to add that his freedom of speech also was violated when he allegedly suffered retaliation for bringing the suit. He also said he was denied rights protected by the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act.
The district judge said two years ago that Fields' rights were not violated because he did not have to attend the event at the mosque and he had the option to send others. The judge added, even if Fields had been ordered to go, he did not have to partake of the optional religious services being offered at the event.
According to the appeals court's 27-page opinion filed Thursday, it agrees with the district judge's decision.
The court ruling lists these reasons for ruling against Fields' appeal:
- The Attendance Order did not burden Fields's religious rights because it did not require him to violate his personal religious beliefs by attending the event; he could have obeyed the order by ordering others to attend, a nd he has not contended on appeal that he had informed his supervisors that doing so would have violated his religious beliefs.
- The order did not violate the Establishment Clause because no informed, reasonable observer would have perceived the order or the event as a government endorsement of Islam.
- The order did not burden Fields's right of association because it did not interfere with his right to decide what organizations to join as a member.
- Fields' equal-protection claim duplicates his free-exercise claim and fails for the same reason.
- The district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Fields's motion to amend the complaint to add ORFA and free-speech retaliation claims because the amendment would have been futile.
According to court documents, the FBI notified the Islamic Society of a threat against it in 2010 and TPD worked to protect the mosque and the school next door. The Islamic Society decided to hold a dinner at the mosque to thank TPD for its help.
Notice was made to officers on February 17, 2010 ordering each shift to send two officers and a supervisor or commander to the March 4 event for at least 30 minutes.
That evening, Fields sent an email to Webster saying he objected to the order and planned to buck orders.
Correspondence from Webster shows he explained that officers were not required to participate in any religious ceremony, make any profession of faith or express opinions or sympathy with any religious belief system.
"They are simply expected to meet with members of the public who have expressed a desire to meet with them at a place of lawful assembly," an email from Webster said, according to records.
Webster asked Fields to reconsider defying orders and that consequences would likely result if he didn't. Fields responded that he wasn't reconsidering and he had already sought counsel, records show.
A meeting took place on February 21 where Webster asked Fields if he was prepared to designate two officers and a supervisor to attend the event, to which Fields said "No." An internal investigation began.
According to court documents, the internal investigation summary stated that Fields did not identify which of his religious convictions would be violated and that Fields publicized his intention not to follow the order and not to require his subordinates to do so, therefore, he committed "an act of insubordination unprecedented in TPD history, which was corrosive of both internal discipline and the public's respect for the department."
Fields' supervisors said he never asked for volunteers to attend the event and never ordered anyone to follow the order and he had plenty of time to comply or state his case since he was made aware of the order two weeks before the event.
Only 27 officers were expected by the TPD deputy chief to go to the event at the mosque, but more than 150 attended, TPD said.
Judges also said in Thursday's ruling that Fields' claim of unlawful punishment for refusing to attend the event was not valid.
"Because the Attendance Order did not violate Fields's right to the free exercise of religion, TPD could lawfully punish him for violating it. An invalid religious objection to an order that does not burden your free exercise of religion does not immunize you from punishment for violation of the order," judges wrote in the opinion.