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.
Schrenger, a 13-year veteran of the department, prayed outside the EMW Women's Surgical Center at roughly 6:00 a.m. on Feb. 20 while he wore a jacket over his police uniform. Pro-choice volunteers at the clinic noticed Schrenger leave in a police car and took photos of him. Schrenger, a father of four, was locked out of his computer and suspended later that day after the department found out he prayed outside the clinic, according to the lawsuit. He was reinstated on June 29.
The officer’s attorney said there was never a legitimate reason to launch an investigation—let alone one that lasted more than four months and only consisted of one interview with Schrenger. Matt Heffron of the Thomas More Society, the religious liberty firm representing Schrenger, said the suspension was a clear example of the city targeting an employee for political reasons.
"There is no room in our society for people in power to abuse those who simply disagree with them—and that’s what’s happened here," Heffron told the Washington Free Beacon. "They don’t like the fact that he was praying in front of an abortion clinic."
Neither Fischer’s office nor the Louisville police department responded for comment.
Schrenger prayed at the abortion clinic with his father as a participant in the "40 Days for Life" movement—an international Catholic prayer effort to end abortion. Heffron noted that the city never took any action against police officers who participated in Black Lives Matter protests or gay pride marches, which he said shows the policy on political demonstrations for officers was nothing but an excuse to target Schrenger. The investigation, he said, was about sending a message.
"This is not a protest—not by a longshot. This is prayer," Heffron told the Free Beacon. "We’re asking law enforcement to follow the law. Ironic, isn’t it?"