Puerto Rico Police Officer Sues to Stop Department's Compelled Prayers

Officer Faced Reprisals for Refusal to Pray at Work

March 8, 2013

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Puerto Rico today sued officials at the Puerto Rico Police Department on behalf of an atheist officer who was harassed and effectively demoted for refusing to participate in official prayer at his precinct. After refusing to take part in prayers conducted by his supervisors during workplace meetings, Officer Alvin Marrero-Méndez was reassigned from conducting standard law enforcement tasks such as patrolling, making arrests, and handling crime-prevention actions, to washing department vehicles and acting as a messenger.

"Government agencies cannot require employees to take part in prayer in their workplace," said William Ramirez, executive director of the ACLU of Puerto Rico. "To do so runs afoul of one of the great pillars of both the U.S. Constitution and the Puerto Rico Constitution, which mandate separation of church and state."

The complaint alleges that the police department's practice of incorporating prayer into staff meetings and briefings violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The lawsuit also states that Marrero-Méndez's supervisors further violated his rights under federal and Puerto Rico law by retaliating against him after he objected to the unlawful activities and refused to participate in the prayers.

Marrero-Méndez asks the court to order his supervisors to end the poor treatment and religious discrimination against him and to cease further official prayers.

"Government employees should never be forced to pray with the boss," said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. "Police departments should be protecting constitutional rights, not trampling them."

Today’s complaint can be found at: www.aclu.org/criminal-law-reform/marrero-mendez-v-pesquera-et-al-complaint

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