A police officer who was punished for praying is fighting back.
Matthew Schrenger, an officer with the Louisville, Kentucky, Metro Police Department, is suing both his police department and the city, claiming that his civil and constitutional rights were violated after he was yanked from duty after an off-duty prayer at an abortion clinic.
“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,” Thomas More Society Senior Counsel Matt Heffron said in a release on the society’s website.
“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,” Heffron said in the release.
According to the news release, the controversy started on Feb. 20, when Schrenger joined his father to pray about 6 a.m. outside the EMW Women’s Surgical Center, a Louisville abortion clinic.
The clinic, the only one of its kind in the state, has been the subject of protests by pro-life groups for years.
Activists will no longer be able to protest directly in front of health facilities in Louisville, namely the EMW Women’s Surgical Center >>> https://t.co/VCPzu4nx8y
— wave3news (@wave3news) May 23, 2021
He was not on duty, but was dressed to report to work in his uniform, which was under a coat he was wearing during the prayer, according to The Daily Wire.
Was this police officer unfairly targeted?
A picture of Schrenger showing him carrying his gun near an LMPD car was posted on a Twitter account run by volunteers at the clinic, The Daily Wire reported. Surveillance footage from outside the clinic showed him holding a sign reading, “pray to end abortion.”
When Schrenger got to work, punishment awaited. He was suspended and not reinstated until June 29, according to the lawsuit, even though allegations of violating Louisville Metro Police Department Standard Operating Procedures and Kentucky law could not be proven, the More Society release states.
“It is astounding to those of us defending him – shocking actually – that the police department would treat a loyal, hard-working officer this way,” Heffron said in the release.
“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.”
Other Louisville officers, wearing their uniforms and apparently on duty, participated in an LGBT parade and Black Lives Matter protests, according to the society’s release. None were disciplined, the release said. Instead, these activities were encouraged by LMPD.
“Officer Schrenger is a 13-year Louisville police veteran,” said Blaine Blood, a Louisville employment attorney who filed the case along with Heffron, said in the news release. “He has received multiple commendations, and there were no significant previous complaints against him. He and his wife have four young children to support.”
Heffron emphasized the circumstances surrounding Schrenger’s prayer.
“Matthew Schrenger was minding his own business. For most of his prayer time, there was no one else around except for his father, in the 6 a.m. hour on a Saturday morning in downtown Louisville, for heaven’s sake!” Heffron in the release. “It was the abortion facility that manufactured the situation, blew it up with intentionally negative publicity, and egged on the city government – who took it out on Officer Schrenger.”
The complaint states that the actions against Schrenger violated the Free Exercise Clause and Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as Amended, and the Kentucky Civil Rights Act.
“Officer Matt Schrenger’s real ‘sin’ in the eyes of certain city hierarchy was that his quiet prayer was for the end of abortion,” Heffron said in the release.
“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,” he said.
“It just can’t be allowed that city officials and police chiefs do this sort of thing to really commended, loyal officers,” Heffron said.
“You certainly don’t treat them so noticeably different than other officers doing the same thing at approximately the same time,” Heffron told The Daily Wire. “That makes pro-life, religious officers as second-class citizens in the police department. That can’t be.”