Police Captain Who Publicly Opposed Event At Islamic Center Lacks Section 1983 Claim

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May 23 — A Tulsa, Okla., police captain disciplined for publicly opposing a department order to either attend or send a few subordinate officers to a law enforcement appreciation event hosted by the Islamic Society of Tulsa has no First Amendment religion or association claim against the city, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled May 22 .  

Affirming summary judgment for the city and two top police officials, the court said Capt. Paul Fields has no claim under the Civil Rights Act of 1871 (42 U.S.C. § 1983) based on the police department's alleged infringement of the First Amendment's free exercise and establishment of religion clauses.

Fields argued that by forcing him to attend or to designate some other officers to attend an event at an Islamic mosque, the department burdened his religious freedom and/or endorsed Muslim religious tenets.

But the court said the February 2011 attendance order didn't conflict with Fields's religious beliefs as he was not required to personally attend and he didn't allege that he told supervisors it would violate his religion to send someone else.

The order didn't violate the First Amendment establishment clause because “no informed reasonable observer could have perceived the order or the event as a government endorsement of Islam,” the court said.

Rather, the Islamic Society held the event, which featured a buffet of American and ethnic foods and voluntary mosque tours, to thank the Tulsa Police Department (TPD), among others, for protecting the mosque and its school after the FBI in 2010 had informed the society of a threat against the establishment, the court said.

The TPD participates in hundreds of similar community events each year, including others at religious venues or sponsored by religious organizations, the court said.

“Fields claims that TPD violated the Establishment Clause because the attendance order and the conduct of the event conveyed an official endorsement of Islam,” Judge Harris L. Hartz wrote. “But given the history, purpose, and context of the order, it would be unreasonable to conclude the order or TPD's attendance at the event was such an endorsement.”

The order didn't violate the First Amendment establishment clause because “no informed reasonable observer could have perceived the order or the event as a government endorsement of Islam,” the court said.

No Free Association Claim

Fields also can't show that the order, or the unpaid suspension he received after going public with his objections, violated his First Amendment free association rights, the court said.

Fields didn't allege he was prevented from associating with anyone, but rather was being forced to associate with the Islamic Society.

“But the attendance order did not require him to attend the event, much less join the Islamic Society or endorse its faith or message in any way,” the court said.

The district court properly denied as futile Fields's request to add a First Amendment speech retaliation claim because under the relevant balancing test, the TPD's compelling interests in maintaining discipline among its senior officers and public confidence in the department outweigh Fields's private interest in his speech, the Tenth Circuit said.

Judges Timothy M. Tymkovich and R. Brooke Jackson joined in the decision.

The American Freedom Law Center, Wood Pull & Wood and the Thomas More Law Center represented Fields. The Tulsa city attorney represented the defendants.

Text of the opinion is available at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/ PAUL_CAMPBELL_FIELDS_Plaintiff__Appellant_v_ CITY_OF_TULSA_CHARLES.