For years, police officers in the Beaumont Police Department have held a voluntary Bible study at the police station during their lunch hour. The City of Beaumont has now demanded that the officers cease doing so. The officers are sending a pre-suit letter saying the city is infringing on their religious rights.
Briscoe Cain, the lawyer for the Beaumont officers, told Breitbart Texas that he will send a pre-suit notice letter (provided below) to the City on Friday morning as required under the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Cain told Breitbart Texas, “At a time when the lives of those who serve and protect us is under the microscope in a way we’ve never seen before, a City Manager and City Attorney have singled out our men and women in blue and demanded that they stop coming together to pray and read the Bible.” The officers’ lawyer added, “This is one of the most blatant attacks on Christianity and anti-police officer moves we have seen a city take. I’d expect something like this from California, but this is Texas.” He said, “The term ‘Pray for Police’ has taken on a new meaning.”
Sergeant Burt Moore, Officer Tony Harding, Detective Anthony Goudeau, and Sergeant Barry Scarborough of the Beaumont Police Department have along with other city employees, held a voluntary Bible study at the Beaumont police station during their lunch hour.
“No one has ever complained,” said Sgt. Burt Moore, a co-founder of the Bible study known as the Faith and Fellowship Bible study. “The City Council opens its meeting with prayer, we have a chaplain program which meets at the station, and anytime we have events at the station someone starts the event in prayer. We officers and other city employees from a variety of ethnicities and faith backgrounds attend. I feel like the City is unfairly targeting us,” continued Sgt. Burt Moore.
The attorney for the four Beaumont police officers said, “My Clients’ sincere religious beliefs and convictions have been violated by the City of Beaumont’s demand to stop holding a voluntary Bible study during their lunch hour at the police station. The last place we hope would impose on the religious rights of its own citizenry is now oppressing the same police officers who place their lives on the line every day to serve and protect us. We intend to show the City this is one thin blue line they cannot cross.”
In a statement provided to Breitbart Texas, Cain explained, “Today we are giving the City pre-litigation notice as required by the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act that its actions substantially burden my Clients’ sincerely-held religious beliefs. There is no justifiable reason for the City to have taken this course of action against its Police Officers.”
Cain and the police officers are holding a press conference at noon on Friday at the front entrance of the Beaumont Police Department near the flag poles and the officer memorial.
The pre-litigation notice letter provided to Breitbart Texas was provided in advance of the presser.
The notice letter provides that Beaumont Police Chief James Singletary called Sgt. Moore and told him that Kyle Hayes, the City Manager, told Singletary that the officers could no longer use the police department building to gather for the Bible study.
Moore sent a formal complaint to the EEOC in late September complaining of the discriminatory actions. Prior to sending the complaint, Moore provided a copy to the police chief who notified the city manager. A few days later, the City informed Moore that the City was backing down on the prohibition of the Bible study.
On October 19, Moore received what Cain’s refers to as “a standard denial letter from the EEOC” which states, “The EEOC is unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes violations of the statutes. This does not certify that the respondent is in compliance with the statutes. No finding is made as to any other issues that might be construed as having been raised by this charge.”
On November 17, Chief Singletary contacted Sgt. Moore and told him that the city manager, City Attorney Tyrone Cooper, and Director of Human Resources Lillie Babino, had decided to no longer allow religious activities in city buildings because the EEOC had decided not to investigate Moore’s complaint. Moore was also informed that the city was planning to draft a policy about the issue.
Lawyer Brisoe Cain wrote in the pre-suit notice letter, “The City completely mischaracterizes the standard language of EEOC denial letters to claim the EEOC response letter stated that a prohibition of the Bible Study was not a problem.” Cain attached an email to the notice letter in support of this statement.
Cain notes that other religious programs and organizations make use of police department facilities including the Clergy and Pastors Partnership program (CAPPS) that is sponsored by the city. Moreover, its logo has long been displayed on the police department’s website, he writes. These community religious leaders meet at the police station and go on ride-alongs with patrol officers. The city also starts council meetings with an invocation, Cain says.
Cain asks in the letter to the city, “Has the City Manager or City Attorney not seen the multiple police departments that have the motto ‘In God We Trust’ prominently displayed on their patrol cars?” He pointed out that the Cleveland ISD and Childress Police Department patrol cars are examples.
Breitbart Texas reported that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an attorney general opinion finding that the national motto, “In God We Trust” may be displayed on patrol cars and that doing so is not a violation of the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution.
The officers and their lawyer state that the City of Beaumont has by prohibiting them from holding a voluntary Bible study twice-monthly during their lunchtime, substantially burdened their free exercise of religion and violated the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (TRFRA).
The notice letter states it “is a demand that the City immediately cease its violations of Texas law, immediately cease any attempts to promulgate a policy prohibiting religious use of City property, and allow [the officers] to exercise their sincerely-held religious beliefs by allowing the Faith and Fellowship Bible Study to continue using the facilities at the Beaumont Police Department, as they had been doing before the City’s decision to arbitrarily ban their sincerely-held religious conduct.”
Breitbart Texas recently reported that the war on Christmas and Christianity had hit the small city of Orange, Texas, near Beaumont. The city manager decided to remove a nativity scene from the lawn of City Hall even though it had been displayed on city property for 30 years. The city manager decided to remove the nativity after an atheist group demanded a display of their own.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott was the first to speak up on the issue of the nativity display. He issued a statement saying, “As the U.S. Supreme Court has continually held, public acknowledgement of our religious heritage is entirely consistent with the Constitution. The Constitution commands accommodation of religion rather than hostility towards it. I strongly encourage the City of Orange to stand up to the demands of a select few who wish to see God thrown out of the public square, embrace the season of Christmas and restore the Nativity Scene immediately.”
Lana Shadwick is a contributing writer and legal analyst for Breitbart Texas. She has served as an associate judge and prosecutor. Follow her on Twitter @LanaShadwick2