On September 15, 2014, the American Freedom Law Center (AFLC) filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case of Captain Paul Fields, a Tulsa, Oklahoma police officer who was punished for objecting to an order that mandated officer attendance at an “appreciation” event held at a local mosque and retaliated against for filing a civil rights lawsuit challenging this punishment as a violation of his constitutional rights. Fields objected on religious grounds to the attendance order because the “appreciation” event was advertised as including—and in fact did include—religious proselytizing, and he is strictly prohibited from discussing his Christian faith while on duty, thereby creating for him a conflict and a moral dilemma.
Fields is seeking Supreme Court review of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit’s ruling disallowing him from amending his complaint to challenge on First Amendment grounds the City’s retaliation against him for filing this lawsuit. The City claimed that the negative publicity from the lawsuit brought discredit upon the department.
Robert Muise, AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel and lead counsel for Fields, commented,
“The Tenth Circuit’s ruling is troubling on so many levels. Its conclusion that Captain Fields’ retaliation claim arising under the First Amendment would be futile is clearly erroneous, contrary to Supreme Court precedent, and indeed, establishes harmful precedent that will have a chilling effect on public employees who want to seek redress for the violation of their constitutional rights in a court of law.”
“Just this past term, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that citizens do not surrender their First Amendment rights by accepting public employment. If the Court means what it says, it will take up this case.”
As stated in the petition:
[A]s a direct consequence of the panel’s decision, a public employee who is considering whether to vindicate his or her constitutional rights in a court of law is now faced with a very difficult decision because if the employee does not ultimately prevail, the defendant-employer can fire (or take other adverse action against) the plaintiff-employee for the negative publicity the employer may receive as a result of the lawsuit or the statements made by the employee’s attorney during the course of litigating the claims.
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A court of law should never allow the government to punish an employee for filing a civil rights lawsuit that seeks to vindicate constitutional rights, as the panel has done here.
David Yerushalmi, AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel, added,
“It is clear that the City and its senior police officials wanted to make an example of Captain Fields by harshly punishing him, a Christian, for objecting on religious grounds to an order compelling attendance at an Islamic event. Allowing this ruling to stand—a ruling which now compels public employees to route complaints about constitutional violations to the very officials responsible for those violations as opposed to a court of law—robs Captain Fields of the very freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution that the courts are duty bound to uphold.”