In a federal lawsuit filed last week, former North Carolina sheriff’s deputy Manuel Torres says he was fired while trying to practice his Christian faith. Torres, 51, says the Lee County Sheriff’s Office terminated his employment because he refused to train a woman—a task, the suit states, that would have involved spending “significant amounts of time alone in his patrol car with the female officer trainee.”
According to the lawsuit, filed July 31 in U.S. District Court, “Torres holds the strong and sincere religious belief that the Holy Bible prohibits him, as a married man, from being alone for extended periods with a female who is not his wife.” Training a female deputy “violates [Torres’] religious beliefs” and leaves “the appearance of sinful conduct on his part,” it adds.
Torres, who has served as a deacon at East Sanford Baptist Church in Sanford, North Carolina, says he adheres to the so-called Billy Graham rule, avoiding situations where he’s alone with another woman who’s not his wife. Other noteworthy adherents include Vice President Mike Pence and two current candidates for Mississippi governor.
Manuel Torres Also Says He Faced Retaliation
In his complaint, Torres says he repeatedly requested religious accommodations—even going up the chain of command. His sergeant retaliated, Torres claims, by not sending the backup he requested at a dangerous crime scene. One superior officer “expressed his anger” at Torres’ persistence, says the former deputy, who was fired in September 2017.
His department also provided “false and negative referrals” to other law enforcement agencies, Torres says, preventing him from securing employment elsewhere. He’s suing for $300,000 in compensatory damages and $15,000 in punitive damages, saying he suffered “loss of income and benefits, loss of quality and enjoyment of life, [and] loss of reputation.”
Is the Principle Common Sense or Discrimination?
Use of the Billy Graham rule, named after the late evangelical leader, has sparked heated debate in the #MeToo era, where appearances are key. Proponents say it offers protection from false accusations and shows respect for one’s spouse. Critics say it’s a sexist ploy to hold women back in the workplace.
Online comments about Torres’ lawsuit exemplify both perspectives. “He was simply avoiding a potentially problematic situation,” someone writes. “If he has to state religion as a reason because you can’t sue based on common sense then so be it.” Others say: “He’d better not ever touch or arrest a female suspect then, either” and “If he is so worried, get a body cam.”
On the Friendly Atheist blog, Hemant Mehta writes, “It’s reprehensible that a law enforcement official would think it’s okay to avoid training a female officer but not a male one. His faith was effectively prohibiting her from working.” Mehta adds that Torres “deserved to be fired for letting his faith get in the way of his job” and that he “doesn’t seem to care about what the female officer went through because he refused to work with her.”
Another commenter urges: “Stop putting men down for being a good person to themselves and the people around them. I wish more men were like this!”