City officials paid a Louisville, Ky., police officer a $75,000 settlement this week after he was suspended for praying at an abortion clinic while off duty.
The Louisville Police Department suspended Officer Matthew Schrenger for more than four months in 2021 after he joined a prayer event outside a local abortion clinic. The department claimed Schrenger's actions violated a policy prohibiting officers from engaging in political demonstrations. Schrenger was reinstated in June following a departmental investigation. In October, he filed a lawsuit that claimed the suspension violated his First Amendment right to religious expression. The city settled the case in December.
Schrenger and his father joined an event outside the EMW Women's Surgical Center on the morning of Feb. 20 as a part of "40 Days for Life," an international Catholic prayer program aimed at ending abortion. The 13-year veteran of the department and father of four was not on duty at the time of the event and was wearing a jacket over his uniform.
But clinic escorts saw him depart in his squad car and reported him to his department. That same day, the department suspended him and locked him out of his computer.
Matt Heffron, a senior counsel at the Thomas More Society, which represented Schrenger, said the decision "shows the city knows it committed a significant and inexcusable violation of a loyal officer's constitutional rights."
Heffron noted other officers in the department participated in Black Lives Matter and LGBT pride events but were never questioned for political demonstrations. The Thomas More Society said it filed public information requests regarding these officers and never received any proof they were similarly suspended or investigated.
"The treatment of Officer Schrenger 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," Heffron said.