An atheist cop in San Juan, Puerto Rico, is suing his superiors after he says they demoted him for refusing to participate in compulsory prayer. Alvin Marrero-Mendez, a 14-year veteran, claims he was reassigned to washing cars and that he lost his weapon after declining prayer participation on the job, the Examiner reports.
Mendez, 38, filed his complaint on March 8. In it, he alleged that his superiors engaged in explicitly-religious activities during meetings. The most contentious portion of the legal document centers upon the accusation that Mendez was asked to give a prayer in front of his fellow officers.When he refused, he was allegedly forced to stand in front of the officers, while a superior mocked him for his rejection of the Christian faith.
According to the AP, supervisors yelled, "He is standing there because he doesn't believe in what we believe in," while Mendez was placed in front of his fellow officers to be shamed for his refusal to embrace prayer. It was after he complained that the officer charges that he was demoted and had his gun taken away.
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Considering Puerto Rico's deep Christian roots, this is one of the first cases of its kind in the U.S. territory. The lawsuit (read it here), filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Puerto Rico and the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, specifically targets Mendez's police chief and three supervisors.
"Plaintiff is an open atheist, and as such, does not subscribe to the Christian faith or any other religious doctrine," the lawsuit reads. "He values his right to adopt no religious beliefs as much as others surely value their right to follow a particular faith."
The ACLU is hoping to achieve two goals in launching the case -- to get a court ruling driving home the notion that forced prayer in the workplace violates the separation of church and state (a value clearly highlighted in Puerto Rico's constitution) and to halt the workplace retaliation purportedly being waged against the officer.
While Mendez's complaints, should they be substantiated, are certainly troubling to church-state separatists, they are nothing new. According to the ACLU's local director William Ramirez, this is simply the latest example -- and one that will now clearly be making its way through the courts.
"This has always been a problem in Puerto Rico," Ramirez said in an interview with the AP. "It's very divisive and it's unconstitutional. ... Government is sending a message, 'This is what we believe, and we believe you should be believing.'"
Featured Image: ShutterStock.com.
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