Wednesday, July 20, 2016

1st Circuit: No Qualified Immunity In Establishment Clause Suit Against Puerto Rico Police Officials

In Marrero-Mendez v. Calixto-Rodriguez, (1st Cir., July 19, 2016), the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a Puerto Rico federal district court that Puerto Rico police officials could not claim qualified immunity in a suit against them challenging opening of police formation meetings with Christian prayer. When plaintiff, an open atheist, complained to his commander about the prayers, the commander told him to stand aside, and shouted to the police formation that plaintiff was standing apart because "he doesn't believe in what we believe in." When plaintiff filed an administrative complaint, he was reassigned to duties that effectively demoted him.  The court concluded:
However complex the nuances of the Establishment Clause doctrine may be for cases without the direct coercion present in this case, a reasonable officer in March 2012 would have known that appellants' conduct amounted to direct and tangible coercion, a paradigmatic example of an impermissible establishment of religion.