A “duty to proselytize”

There’s a police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma – an officer officer, a captain – who thinks he has a “duty to proselytize” – even in uniform, even on duty – anyone who doesn’t have the same religious beliefs as his. Huh. I would think he has a duty not to, because separation of church and state. If there’s any branch of government you don’t want proselytizing you, it’s the police or the military.

Fortunately, a federal appellate court saw it the same way. The ACLU explains:

In 2011, the Islamic Society of Tulsa organized a Law Enforcement Appreciation Day to show its gratitude for protection provided after threats to its mosque. As part of its longstanding community-policing initiative, the Tulsa Police Department requested some of its officers to attend, as they had for hundreds of other outreach events hosted by various religious organizations over the years.

One officer – Captain Paul Fields – refused, however, claiming his attendance would pose a “moral dilemma.” Even when in uniform, Fields argued, he had a “duty to proselytize” anyone who doesn’t share his Christian beliefs. Despite his supervisors’ assurances that no one at the event would be required to participate in any religious observations or express or adopt any beliefs, and despite their offers that he send a subordinate in his place, Fields wouldn’t follow orders.

In a unanimous decision yesterday, a federal appellate court rightly found Captain Fields’s claims to have no merit, agreeing with the Tulsa Police Department and theACLU. Though certainly entitled to his own deeply held beliefs, as a police officer, Captain Fields is bound to serve all members of the community, regardless of their faith.

Including, I might add, no faith at all.


  1. Martin Cohen says

    Sounds like he should move to a country where his commitment to his faith is supported by the government.

    Any recommendations?

  2. says

    I get (and support, with some exceptions) that religious people shouldn’t be required to engage in actions clearly against their scruples, or participate in observances of other faiths. I get that because I want that for myself, too. But I seem to have missed the part where Jesus or Paul forbid normal, quotidian, just getting along with people who don’t share your religion, and doing the job you are paid to do for the community.

    And Officer Fields: If you want me to respect your faith as a force for good in the world, you’ll get a lot farther by being a decent human being — to everyone without differentiation — and doing your job in as conscientious and honest a manner possible, than by any amount of preaching. And I can think of more than a few words from Jesus and famous historical Christians that would back that up.

  3. Alverant says

    If your job contradicts your faith, you either quit or your faith takes a back seat. Sorry, Knight but I feel that if you agree to do a job you can’t later claim “it’s against my religion” to avoid doing parts of it. Otherwise we’re going to have people using their employer as a means to proselytize which puts the business at risk.

    Fields wanted both and now he’s opened up his department to lawsuits as everyone Fields arrested or ticketed can claim he harassed them for not being his brand of christian and made threats against those who disagreed. Or worse, what if we find out Fields didn’t do his job when it came to people his faith said were bad for example he refused to arrest a man who was attacking a homosexual.

    Freedom comes with responsibilities and if you want freedom of religion then you’ll have to learn to live with people who are of different religions than you.

  4. Alverant says

    Knight, what kind of accommodations do you mean? Are we talking about allowing a catholic employee permission to come in late on Ash Wednesday so they can go through the ceremony and such or something else?

  5. Blanche Quizno says

    Alverant, if your religion makes it impossible for you to do your job, you can’t have that job. Fair enough?

    If your job starts at X time, you show up at X time.

    If people at your same job are allowed to come in late because children, medical, dental, etc., then if your request to come in late because religion requires no more than other people’s requests for accommodation because (other stuff), that should be fine.

    But if your job requires you to work on Sundays (and you refuse because religion) or requires you to serve people of other religions (and you refuse because religion) or requires that you dispense birth control medications (and you refuse because religion) or requires that you handle customers’ groceries (and you refuse because religion), then you should expect to be fired. Where religion interferes with your ability to do the minimum required at your job, then if you choose religion, you can do it elsewhere.

    I don’t see why that’s so hard for people to understand.

  6. says

    Sorry, I’m babbling without having a properly worked-out position on this. The issues I’m trying to navigate are:

    1) I see freedom of conscience as an aspect of freedom of expression. Actually, more than that, I see it as an important component of the freedom to work out one’s own concept of the “well-lived life”, and pursue same. Among other things, that means no one gets to tell anyone else (in a coercive way I mean; peaceable persuasion is always allowed) which kind of god to believe in, or what moral system they must follow, or how to run their personal sex life, etc. I want a society which allows the maximum practical space for individuals to work all that out for themselves.

    2) Denial of employment is a form of coercion, just as much as denial of housing or any of the other economic transactions that we take for granted as being part of a normal life in society.

    3) Notwithstanding #2, the job — dispensing birth control, protecting people you disagree with, whatever — still has to get done. Accommodation of employee scruples creates a burden on the employer, possibly an onerous one. And as pointed out, some jobs put one in a position where there’s opportunity to apply coercion to other people (thus violating #1).

    All of that creates, in my mind, a grey area about the degree to which employers should be obliged to accommodate their employees’ religious scruples. In the present case, the officer is well out of bounds, as also are, for example, JPs who won’t solemnize same-sex weddings and pharmacists who won’t dispense meds that have been approved and prescribed by the proper authorities. But I’m sure there are lots of other cases that I’d have more trouble adjudicating (which makes it a good thing I’m not a judge).

  7. Alverant says

    I feel that religion and “freedom of conscience” are just sets of opinions wrapped up in the divine. “God says don’t eat bacon” should have as much weight as “I won’t eat bacon because I’m vegan”. Expression of those opinions, or any opinions, can have consequences. If you have opinions that run counter to the duties a job requires you to perform, then being denied that job is not a form of coercion. Claiming you won’t dispense birth control pills because God said contraception is evil is the same as saying you won’t dispense birth control pills because it’s a woman’s function to have as many children as possible. If you won’t hire someone who says the latter then the former deserves no additional protection.

    Nor should having a given set of opinions be a shield to deflect one from those consequences. If you won’t hire a 911 operation who has the opinion that homosexuals deserve what’s coming to them, they shouldn’t be able to rephrase that opinion into a religious statement to claim discrimination.

    If opinions have nothing to do with the job, then those opinions are not a basis to deny employment. Individuals should be allowed to work things out for themselves, but that doesn’t mean they get to push their opinions on others. Even if someone is against birth control, if they still sell the pills and condoms like they should, then there shouldn’t be a problem.

    The consequence of your first point is that employees can use “freedom of conscience” as an excuse to defy company policy when they act as a representative of that company. Effectively it’s using their authority to push your opinions.

  8. says

    Some accomodation I think is fine.

    A Muslim getting to take their 15 minute break in multiple parts rather than one stretch so they can get all their prayers done is probably fine(not always- safety critical positions with tight scheduling might rule it out).

    A Christian whose authority to solemnize marriage comes from the state rather than their religious heierarchy, who refuses to solemnize a legal marriage should be fired.

  9. johnthedrunkard says

    How did this man have a career in the police force if he felt his job description included proselytizing? What have his subordinates endured in silence, and for how long?

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