A police officer in Louisville, Kentucky, is suing his department and the city’s mayor for suspending him after he was photographed Feb. 20 praying outside an abortion facility.
Officer Matthew Schrenger, a 13-year veteran police officer, does not deny being at the EMW Women’s Surgical Center at approximately 6 a.m. that Saturday, two hours before his shift began.
He joined his father in standing outside the clinic “for private prayer,” his attorneys said in a statement, but “he was not on duty at the time.”
He also wore a coat over his uniform, obscuring the clothing, Matt Heffron, the officer’s attorney, said in a statement.
The lawyer, who is senior counsel at the Thomas More Society, said that “for most of his prayer time, there was no one else around except for his father.”
“It was the abortion facility that manufactured the situation, blew it up with intentionally negative publicity, and egged on the city government — who took it out on Officer Schrenger,” Mr. Heffron said.
By the time Officer Schrenger showed up to work that day, his police privileges were suspended and he was taken off the patrol roster for violating a department policy against participating in political protests while in uniform.
The officer claims such rules are unevenly enforced, and he should not have been subjected to so long a suspension.
“A quiet, off-duty prayer, on a public sidewalk, resulted in Officer Matt Schrenger being immediately suspended for over four months, stripped of his police powers, and placed under investigation,” Mr. Heffron said.
“No one should be treated the way the Louisville police chief and city government treated one of their finest, but it’s particularly awful because they punished him for praying, of all things … and while off duty, no less,” the lawyer said.
The lawsuit, filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, names Police Chief Erika Shields, the Louisville Metro Police Department, Mayor Greg Fischer, and the City of Louisville, Kentucky.
The complaint alleges violations of the Free Exercise and Free Speech clauses of the First Amendment, the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Kentucky Civil Rights Act.
Officer Schrenger claims he was cleared of charges against him on June 15 by Chief Shields, who said “none of the allegations against Officer Schrenger could be sustained.”
It would be an additional two weeks before he was back on the job, Mr. Heffron said.
The Thomas More attorney said that around the time of Mr. Schrenger’s off-duty prayer, other Louisville police officers, “publicly marched in an LGBT parade and participated in Black Lives Matter protests,” while apparently on duty and wearing their uniforms, without consequence.
The police department encouraged those protests, a statement asserted.
“Officer Matt Schrenger’s real ‘sin’ in the eyes of certain [people in the] city hierarchy was that his quiet prayer was for the end of abortion,” Mr. Heffron said.
“Certain members of the city government publicly made it known they would not tolerate his opinion, and the police chief either agreed or perhaps just followed their lead. They thought they could get away with abusing a good officer with a four-month suspension without any reasonable basis,” he added.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Fischer told The Washington Times that the mayor’s office does not comment on pending litigation.
Neither the Louisville Metro Police Department nor Josh Abner, executive administrator with the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office, immediately returned calls seeking comment.