The Constitution still exists! Louisville pays $75,000 to wronged officer suspended for off-duty prayer

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LOUISVILLE, KY – Louisville, Kentucky, is paying $75,000 to a police officer who says he was suspended for four months after offering up an off-duty prayer outside an abortion clinic.

The federal lawsuit was filed October 4, 2021, by Thomas More Society attorneys on behalf of Officer Matthew Schrenger. The complaint stated that the City of Louisville and the Louisville Metro Police Department violated the officer’s constitutional and civil rights.

Specifically, Schrenger claimed LMPD, Chief Erika Shields and Mayor Greg Fischer violated his First and 14th Amendment rights to free speech, free expression, and equal protection, as well as the federal Civil Rights Act and the Kentucky Civil Rights Act.

In a press release issued Thursday, Thomas More Society Senior Counsel Matt Heffron announced the settlement, pointing out that the speed of the settlement shows the City knew its actions were wrong:

“The City’s quick offer of $75,000 shows the City knows it committed a significant and inexcusable violation of a loyal officer’s Constitutional rights.”

Schrenger and his father stopped outside an abortion clinic to pray on February 20, before the officer’s shift began. He was not on duty at the time, and he violated no specific departmental policy.

Atty. Heffron pointed out that Schrenger wore a coat over his uniform and was not identifiable as a police officer.

The Constitution still exists! Louisville pays ,000 to wronged officer suspended for off-duty prayer

Photographs of the LMPD cruiser and allegedly showing Schrenger were shared on social media by clinic escorts at the EMW Women’s Surgical Center.

Later that day at work, the officer discovered he was locked out of his work computer, relieved of his police vehicle, and removed from the patrol schedule.

The lawsuit stated:

“Under these circumstances, where Schrenger’s conduct admittedly was not clearly prohibited, there should have been no suspension and no investigation.

Officer Schrenger is a 13-year LMPD veteran with multiple commendations and without any significant previous complaints against him. He has four young children to support.

“He is the sort of officer LMPD easily could have talked to, if LMPD found his off-duty prayer activities to be inappropriate.”

Schrenger was suspended and he was stripped of his police powers, pending an investigation of his off-duty prayer. LMPD Chief Erika Shields wrote a letter dated June 15, 2021, clearing the officer of any wrongdoing.

Despite the decision, his police powers remained suspended for more than four more months. He rejoined the force on June 15.

Atty. Heffron said the treatment of Schrenger was unacceptable, especially considering other officers were permitted to march in uniform for other political reasons authorized by the department:

“The treatment of Officer Schreger was particularly galling considering other Louisville police officers previously had marched, while on-duty and in uniform, in political protests that apparently were approved by the police department.

“The unfair discipline revealed undeniably content-based discrimination against Officer Schrenger’s personal pro-life views and violated his First Amendment rights. He did not engage in any political protest on duty – he prayed quietly.

Yet Officer Schrenger was punished for this peaceful, private behavior. He was treated very differently than other officers who had undeniably engaged in true political protest and activism while participating in LGBT and Black Lives Matter demonstrations.”

Open-records requests revealed that these other officers suffered no suspension and, in fact, no discipline whatsoever, according to the Thomas More Society press release.

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Louisville officer sues city for suspending him while praying outside an abortion clinic while off-duty

October 10, 2021

 LOUISVILLE, KY – A Louisville, Kentucky police officer is suing the town’s mayor, police chief, and police department for investigating and suspending him over his off-duty prayer at an abortion clinic.

The federal lawsuit was filed October 4, 2021, by Thomas More Society attorneys on behalf of Officer Matthew Schrenger. The complaint states that the City of Louisville and the Louisville Metro Police Department violated the officer’s constitutional and civil rights.

Specifically, Schrenger claims LMPD, Chief Erika Shields and Mayor Greg Fischer violated his First and 14th Amendment rights to free speech, free expression, and equal protection, as well as the federal Civil Rights Act and the Kentucky Civil Rights Act.

Thomas More Society Senior Counsel Matt Heffron explained:

“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.

“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.”

Schrenger was with his father praying on the sidewalk outside the center in the early morning hours of Feb. 20, before his shift began, according to the suit.

Schrenger was not on duty at the time of the prayer.

The lawsuit said his prayer was “in support of the lives ended by abortion,” and he and his father alternatingly wore a “40 Days for Life” sign, which is part of a religious campaign to end abortion through peaceful prayer.

Photos that show an LMPD cruiser and allegedly showing Schrenger were shared to a Twitter account run by clinic escorts at the EMW Women’s Surgical Center.  The post resulted in complaints from abortion rights activists and some local leaders, and LMPD launched an investigation.

The officer reported for duty later that morning. That same day, Schrenger discovered he was locked out of his work computers, relieved of his police vehicle, and removed from the patrol schedule.

Schrenger was suspended and he was stripped of his police powers, pending an investigation of his off-duty prayer.

The officer was accused of violating Louisville Metro Police Department Standard Operating Procedures and Kentucky law.

LMPD Chief Erika Shields wrote a letter dated June 15, 2021, clearing the officer of any wrong-doing. Despite the decision, his police powers remained suspended for more than four more months.

A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on Monday claims “LMPD wrongly accused Schrenger of violating LMPD Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and Kentucky law.”

It went on to say other LMPD officers had participated while in uniform “in an LGBT parade and in Black Lives Matter protests.”

The lawsuit states:

“Under these circumstances, where Schrenger’s conduct admittedly was not clearly prohibited, there should have been no suspension and no investigation. Officer Schrenger is a 13-year LMPD veteran, with multiple commendations, and without any significant previous complaint against him. He has four young children to support.

“He is the sort of officer LMPD easily could have talked to, if LMPD found his off-duty prayer activities to be inappropriate.”

https://twitter.com/GFSMITH717/status/1446203106119884813

Attorney Heffron said:

“It is astounding to those of us defending him – shocking actually — that the police department would treat a loyal, hard-working officer this way.

“It’s particularly interesting that while Officer Schrenger did not engage in any political protest on duty and did not display his uniform, he was treated very differently than other similarly situated Louisville Metro Police Department officers who had undeniably engaged in true political protest and activism.”

The officer’s attorney said the city was not investigating Schrenger for violating police or city policy. He said they were going after him because of his beliefs:

“Officer Matt Schrenger’s real ‘sin’ in the eyes of certain city hierarchy was that his quiet prayer was for the end of abortion. 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. They left his career and his livelihood dangling. Now the city government will face the consequences of their actions, which are illegal under the Civil Rights Act and under the Constitution.” 

 

 

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