Per the complaint, Méndez was in formation with other officers in a shopping mall parking lot, being briefed on an intervention plan for his service area. Area Commander Guillermo Calixto-Rodríguez conducted the briefing.
At the end of the briefing, Commander Rodríguez called for a closing prayer. Marrero-Méndez told the commander that he was not comfortable participating in a prayer and correctly indicated that such action was in violation of department regulation. The commander then publicly humiliated Méndez in front of his fellow officers and citizens.
It is alleged that due to not being of the Christian faith and his filing of a formal complaint with the Puerto Rico Police Department, the 13-year veteran was demoted from street officer to “the airport station to perform vehicle-maintenance tasks.” In essence, a car washer.
The NAP agrees with the court filing that Marrero-Méndez was subject to “unwanted religious exercise and messages sponsored by Department officials,” and that the Commander’s primary purpose was to promote his religious beliefs as the command’s beliefs. The result caused Méndez “severe mental distress, anguish, humiliation, and shame.”
This is a clear violation of Puerto Rico Revised Statute and of Marrero-Méndez’ civil rights as deemed in the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
The First Amendment provides that an individual may maintain any religious belief he or she wishes, including the right not to believe in any faith; to be an a-theist. In addition, a state or, as in this case, a commonwealth of the United States, cannot sponsor a religious belief. The actions of the Puerto Rico Police Department and its management were in clear violation of this constitutional provision.
“A person in a position of power that uses that position as an opportunity and a platform for proselytizing their religion is guilty of the most egregious kind of religious harassment,” says Troy Boyle, President of the National Atheist Party. “Many officers might feel that they have to feign worship of the Commander’s ‘god’ in order to retain their position, particularly after this officer’s public upbraiding and subsequent change in duties. The NAP vehemently opposes this specific kind of workplace indoctrination.”
“There is much more to this lawsuit than religious discrimination,” says David Rosman, author and lecturer on the religiosity of America and NAP’s Missouri Assistant State Leader, “it is the basis for today’s battles against religious discrimination of any kind.”
Rosman continued that it is not all western faiths in general, but primarily the religious-right who incorrectly believes that the United States was founded as a Christian nation and, therefore, they are somehow above U.S. law.
The NAP urges the Commonwealth to discipline Commander Rodríguez and the other defendants in this case for their failure to comply with Commonwealth and Federal law.
The NAP urges the Commonwealth to publicly apologize to Officer Marrero-Méndez and his family for the actions of the PRPD’s commanders and ranking officers, and reinstate him to his duties as a street officer and receive any lost compensation, as well as any other penalty the court decides.
The NAP urges the Commonwealth and the courts to implement a training program to help prevent this type of discrimination from happening again.
The National Atheist Party is a non-profit, 527 political organization devoted to issue advocacy and guided by the values of secular humanism and evidence-based reasoning. The party seeks to politically represent U.S. atheists and all who share the goal of a secular government by gathering the political strength of secularists nationwide.