There’s more trouble brewing in Louisville, Kentucky, but this time it doesn’t have anything to do with the death of Breonna Taylor. It does have to do with one member of the Louisville Police Department, however. Officer Matthew Schrenger stopped off before work at the EMW Women’s Surgical Center, an abortion clinic, back in February and knelt to pray for a while. He then went back to his patrol car and proceeded to work as usual. But some liberal activists on the scene noticed that he was a police officer and began taking photographs of him. Both Planned Parenthood and Black Lives Matter were immediately up in arms and calling for Schrenger to be canceled. The Louisville PD responded by suspending him from duty the same day and launching a four-month investigation into what he had done. The suspension was finally lifted on June 29. But now Schrenger is going to court against the department, claiming that his First Amendment rights were violated. (Free Beacon)
A Louisville police officer sued the city’s Democratic mayor for violating his First Amendment rights when he was suspended for praying outside an abortion clinic while off-duty.
The Louisville police department investigated Officer Matthew Schrenger for more than four months this year over his alleged violation of a policy that prohibits police from participating in political demonstrations. The department dropped the investigation and reinstated him after it admitted the policy was not enforced fairly. Last week, Schrenger filed a lawsuit against the department, its police chief, and Mayor Greg Fischer, who he claims violated his right to religious expression in pursuit of the investigation. The city investigated Schrenger months after local Planned Parenthood Action and Black Lives Matter chapters called on Fischer to resign in response to concerns over police brutality.
The Louisville PD does have a policy on the books that forbids police officers from “participating in political demonstrations.” Apparently, that applies to every hour of the day, not just when they are on the beat, because Schrenger was off duty at the time. That makes the rule dodgy enough to begin with. But does pausing to kneel on a sidewalk and pray by yourself qualify as a “political demonstration” just because it took place in front of an abortion clinic? If Schrenger had stopped at a local park and met someone who had just lost a family member and knelt to pray with them for a moment, would he be similarly in violation of the rules?
If this officer had been marching around the clinic with a group of other people and carry a pro-life sign, I can see how that would qualify as a “protest” under the reasonable observer standard. (Though I still don’t see how they could regulate that activity if he was off duty.) But the simple act of prayer in public seems as if it would absolutely qualify as an act of practicing one’s religion and be completely protected. It appears the Louisville PD figured that out as well, but it took them four months to reach the conclusion. I don’t care where you come down on the entire abortion debate, this just seems like it should have been a no-brainer.
On a related topic, how much of a bunch of jerks would the members of Planned Parenthood and Black Lives Matter have to be to raise such a stink over this? Schrenger wasn’t on the scene in uniform to bust the heads of the clinic’s employees or pro-abortion protesters. He was there on his own time as a private citizen and did nothing but pray. He even kept a jacket on to cover his uniform the entire time he was there. None of the people objecting even realized he was a cop until they saw him get into his squad car.
This sounds like a case where the officer in question should stand a fairly good shot at prevailing. That would likely be seen as good news for religious freedom in our country, but it’s rather unfortunate that his lawsuit may end up draining even more money from the department’s budget. None of this would have happened if Planned Parenthood and BLM hadn’t started an immediate effort to cancel him. Perhaps he should be allowed to sue them instead.