Atheist Cop Gets Demoted to Car-Washer After Refusing to Lead Prayer

Alvin Marrero-Méndez is an atheist and a cop from Puerto Rico. Those two worlds collided a year ago when he and 40 of his colleagues met up to decide how to handle issues in Carolina (in the northern part of Puerto Rico).

It was at that meeting when Commander Guillermo Calixto-Rodríguez asked for a volunteer to lead the group in prayer (PDF):

Just say no.

[Marrero-Méndez] called [Calixto-Rodríguez] aside and told him that he objects to such official prayers because they promote religious beliefs to which he does not subscribe. He also pointed out that the prayer violated Department regulations, which provide that “[a] strict separation shall be maintained between the church and the state.”… Plaintiff informed Defendant Guillermo Calixto-Rodríguez that he felt very uncomfortable taking part in the prayer and that he did not want to participate.

Defendant Guillermo Calixto-Rodríguez became upset and ordered Plaintiff to abandon the formation. Following the commanding officer’s instructions, Plaintiff separated himself from the formation. As Plaintiff was walking away, Defendant Calixto-Rodríguez shouted that Plaintiff should stop and stand still until the prayer was finished. Then, in front of the entire formation, Defendant Guillermo Calixto-Rodríguez shouted that Plaintiff was standing apart from everyone else because “he doesn’t believe in what we believe.” Plaintiff felt humiliated and turned his back to the formation until the prayer, which was explicitly Christian, ended.

After 14 years as a trained police officer, that incident led to Marrero-Méndez getting a new assignment:

Now, instead of carrying out the law enforcement duties for which he is trained, the sole employment duties assigned to Plaintiff, a 14-year veteran of the Department, have been those of a car-washer and messenger.

On several occasions, Plaintiff has been ordered to report to work during the night shift, when the vehicle garage is closed, leaving him without any work to do. He has also been ordered to wash patrol cars under the harsh blazing sun of the early afternoons.

Unbelievable. He got demoted from cop to car-washer, despite doing everything right. The superior officer, on the other hand, broke the rules and suffered no punishment at all.

Marrero-Méndez’s has also been the subject of a lot of workplace proselytization.

This should be an easy case. Still, I’m sure the Christian side will inevitably argue that this is some sort of violation of their religious freedom. They should have a right to pray! And, apparently, to force everyone else to do it, too!

As one commenter at Raw Story put it:

I’d offer a corollary to that: If that’s how they treat someone who obeys the law, I’d hate to see what happens to a criminal.

(image via Shutterstock — Thanks to Richard for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • alconnolly

    Regarding your corollary “I’d offer a corollary to that: If that’s how they treat someone who obeys the law, I’d hate to see what happens to a criminal.” They probably ask the criminal to recite a little prayer asking Jebus to forgive him, and send him off to pass out a few gospel tracts as penance. PTL!

  • AxeGrrl

    Reprehensible. And done with ‘righteous indignation’ to boot…….ah, the joys of Christian entitlement and narcississm.

  • Michael

    Or an atheist victim of crime.

  • Rich Wilson

    My six year old son saw the picture and asked what it was about. When I explained, he said “That’s just strange!”

  • Sven2547

    While I agree completely with Officer Marrero-Mendez, I think your title is inaccurate. Officer Marrero-Mendez rightly refused to participate. I don’t see anything about him being asked to LEAD the prayer. Did I miss something?

  • GloomCookie613

    The article I read about this said that they had asked him to lead the prayer and was given crap after refusing and pointing out that it was against his personal views and department policy. I’d look and link for you, but I’m on mobile :/

  • kaydenpat

    So shocking. Sounds like he’ll easily win his case. This is obvious discrimination.

  • guvic

    Indeed ,the officer was not asked to lead the prayer, he was asked to participate in a prayer before going into a scheduled operative. He manifested he was unwilling to do it and was told to break formation, later shouted to stop and wait for the prayer to finish, which is stilln my opinion a form of coercion.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    To me, an encouraging note about his lawsuit is that he will be represented by the ACLU. If you look through the history of ACLU lawsuits on religious freedom, you may note that most of their cases have involved theist minorities, not out atheists. I would be happy to attribute this to political astuteness rather than bigotry on the part of the ACLU, but it is nevertheless a fact. I am glad to see that atheism is now at lest acceptable enough for the ACLU to get themselves involved.

  • observer

    I’m curious, what would they do to a Christian criminal?

  • Kengi

    How did you get this mistaken impression of the ACLU? They are one of the few organizations willing to defend absolutely anyone on the right side of a civil liberties dispute. The civil rights involved are what matters to them, not the religion, sex, creed, politics, etc of the person involved.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Probably jack shit, because all the criminal really needs to do is pray to Jesus for forgiveness.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Yup. That’s sure Jesus’ love right there.

  • TheBlackCat13

    It wasn’t so long ago that the ACLU rejected cases from people who were openly atheist. Not so much because they opposed atheism, but because they thought that their atheism would make the case too hard to win.

  • Mick

    Today he’s washing cars. I wonder how long it will take before his Christian superiors hit upon the idea of sending him into dangerous situations without sufficient backup?

  • Kengi

    Oh, you mean like when ACLU lawyer Maury Maverick Jr. refused to represent Madalyn Murray O’Hair in the 1960′s because she was an atheist.

    No, wait a minute. The ACLU lawyers DID represent her! And got her out of a Texas jail. I guess “not so long ago” means the 1950′s? If then?

    Do you actually have a reference I can read about this?

    I do know they have rejected money from atheist groups, but that’s the same way they reject money from other special interest groups. They have always tried to remain apolitical so as not to be seen as being beholden to any group.

    As the ACLU themselves say, they defend “rich or poor, straight or gay, black or white or brown, urban or rural, pious or atheist, American-born or foreign-born, able-bodied or living with a disability.”

  • Gordon Murphy

    Incorrect. By the sounds of these cunts, no christian ever committed a crime.

  • TheBlackCat13

    How about the ACLU (or lack thereof) in Bauchman vs. West High School?

    And if the ACLU rejects money from special interest groups, why did they ultimately concede and accept the money after the large public outcry?

    Look, I am a very strong supporter of the ACLU. They do an excellent job. But there were some issues with atheist there for a little while. That seems to have been resolved, I think in a large part due to groups like AU and FFRF that were willing to take on such cases. Pretending it didn’t happen doesn’t help anyone.

  • Kengi

    Rachel Bauchman (in Bauchman v. West High School) was Jewish, not an atheist. Try again, and this time provide a link with, you know, evidence or something.

    All of the “ACLU won’t defend atheists” memes I ever heard were myths from that silly spat about the donation a few years back. Did you really fall for that crap?

  • McAtheist

    Well, if being demoted to car-washer/gofer doesn’t convince Mr. Marrero-Mendez that jesus is a kind and loving dude, I guess nothing will.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Chuck Smalkowski, 2005

    … Eventually I contacted the American Atheist, which was
    referred to me by Edward Tabash, who was referred to me by a
    Mr. Robert Tierman. I told them my problem in finding an
    attorney willing to take church and state case in which the
    people are blatantly breaking the law. Yet no one will take
    it. American Atheist, being out of another state, could not
    refer me to anyone. But they said they would try to help.
    The ACLU out of Oklahoma City refused. They sent me some
    standard letter.

  • Randay

    Atheist groups are hardly special interest groups, though there may be a few exceptions.

  • Randay

    Reginald, your post reminds me of ones I have sent to Amnesty International. I asked them why they actively opposed female circumcision but not male circumcision. In a couple of exchanges, they gave the the excuse that no international body had opposed it! I asked them since when did they wait for the approval of any such an organization. They never replied. I think you are right that groups like the ALCU and Amnesty International have selective agendas.

  • Just Me

    The sad thing is all the pressure happening back at the island for him to be terminated. They don’t trust him as a cop anymore just because he is an atheist and “OMG he cried!”. I’m Puerto Rican and, right now, embarrassed to admit it. No wonder the crime is so ridiculously high here, you can get away with anything as long as you claim your love for Jebus.