A police sergeant who has served as an officer for nearly sixteen years has filed suit against the Los Angeles Police Department, alleging he was illegally demoted and repeatedly denied promotions for his off-duty remarks citing Scripture verses critical of homosexual acts.
The lawsuit alleges that the LAPD has “historically discriminated against LAPD officers that engage in protected activity and continues to discriminate against officers that cite from the Holy Bible.”
Sgt. Eric Holyfield, who when off-duty is also a senior pastor at the Gospel Word of Life Apostolic Church, made the remarks on September 29, 2006 during his delivery of a eulogy at the funeral of Officer Nathaniel Warthon Jr. at a private chapel in Whittier, the California Catholic Daily reports. As he eulogized his fellow officer, Holyfield identified himself as a sergeant and Wharton’s supervisor, according to the suit, but was clad in black clergy attire rather than his uniform.
The officer’s family had requested Holyfield, who was on vacation and off-duty at the time, deliver the eulogy.
In the eulogy Holyfield quoted various Scripture passages, including First Corinthians Chapter 6 which reads in the King James Version, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived, neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminates, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the Kingdom of God.”
Holyfield’s lawsuit, which was filed on June 19 in Los Angeles Superior Court, described the incident, saying “Holyfield quoted those chapters and verses, as well as others as he explained the following general statements, i.e., men should not lie with men; women should not lie with women; to do so was an abomination or sinful; one must repent or be condemned to hell…”
The funeral was not sponsored by the LAPD, but several high-ranking officers attended, including Deputy Chief Charles Beck. The lawsuit alleges that Beck said Holyfield “made disparaging remarks about gays, lesbians and adulterers during his sermon,” which is against LAPD policy. The suit claims Deputy Chief Beck “acted on his religious biases and initiated a formal complaint against Holyfield.”
In early October, 2006, Holyfield received a phone call from his immediate supervisor, Capt. James Craig, while at home on vacation. Craig told Holyfield he had received “a number of complaints concerning you in regard to the funeral. Police officers, community members, clergy people, and as a result, I’m going to have to move you.”
Holyfield was removed from his duties as Officer in Charge of Community Relations, which the lawsuit describes as a “coveted assignment.”
According to Holyfield, he tried to argue that departmental policy did not apply because the statements were in a church outside the city, he was wearing civilian clothes and he was on vacation. He argued that the funeral was not “an extension of the workplace.”
Craig told Holyfield he would be returned to the detective division, allegedly saying, “you need to revert back to detectives or I’ll have to put you in patrol.”
Holyfield claims he has been denied promotions at least nine times because of his religious beliefs.
According to the California Catholic Daily, the suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, lost wages, attorney’s fees, and a permanent injunction against the LAPD prohibiting similar actions against its officers in the future.