Louisiana Record

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Religious discrimination suit raises constitutional issues, Americans United for Separation of Church and State says


By Carrie Bradon | Dec 26, 2018

A Port Allen police officer recently filed a lawsuit alleging the city's police chief subjected him to religious discrimination and created a hostile work environment.

Robert Cannon Jr., a former sergeant with the Port Allen Police Department, claimed he became a victim of religious discrimination while he worked at the department in the lawsuit filed against Police Chief Esdron Brown, a posting on The West Side Journal said. Cannon's suit also accuses Brown of retaliating against him after he filed a complaint with the mayor’s office, the posting said.

According to the allegations, Brown promoted a police officer, claiming that he was being commanded by God to do so, in addition to making officers pray during mandatory meetings.

Alex Luchenitser | Courtesy of Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Alex Luchenitser, associate legal director with the nonprofit Americans United for Separation of Church and State, recently spoke with the Louisiana Record about the issues raised in the lawsuit.

"Public employers must never press their religious beliefs on their employees," Luchenitser said. "Public employees should never be pressured by their bosses to attend religious meetings." 

The posting said that in addition to being forced to pray, Cannon was victimized after he returned from a leave of medical absence in 2017 because he questioned Brown's promotion of a police officer who attended church with Brown. Cannon claimed he believed Brown was giving preferential treatment to the police officer simply because of where he worshiped. 

"When public employers engage in these kinds of actions, they violate their employees’ religious freedom," Luchenitser said. "The alleged conduct in this case violates both the U.S. Constitution and federal and state law. It violates Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as the Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law, both of which prohibit employment discrimination based on religion."

Luchenitser said that because the actions alleged were taken by a public employer, they also violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits the forcing of religious beliefs on employees.

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Organizations in this Story

ACLU of Louisiana Americans United for Separation of Church and State

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