A North Carolina sheriff’s deputy who was fired in 2017 claimed in a lawsuit that he faced religious discrimination for refusing to spend time alone with a woman officer because she wasn’t his wife.
Manuel Torres, 51, is suing Lee County Sheriff Tracy Lynn Carter in federal court. Torres was ordered to train a woman deputy in 2017 but refused, claiming that his Christian beliefs prohibit him as a married man from being alone with a woman who is not his wife. He was later fired.
The practice, referred to as the “Billy Graham rule” after its proponent, is practiced among male Evangelicals, including — according to some reports — Vice President Mike Pence. Torres’ case is reportedly believed to be the first one to invoke the Billy Graham rule in a religious discrimination lawsuit.
The training required Torres to “spend significant periods of time alone in his patrol car with the female officer trainee,” the lawsuit, filed earlier this month, said. His lawyer didn't immediately return a request for comment.
Torres, who worked at the Lee County Sheriff’s Office since 2012 and serves as a deacon at a local Baptist church, said in the lawsuit that training a woman deputy in such a way would have violated his alleged religious beliefs and given the appearance of “sinful conduct.”
Torres “has a sincerely held religious belief against working alone in his patrol car in isolated areas with a female who is not his wife,” the lawsuit said.
Torres said that in July 2017 he requested a religious accommodation from his superior.
The sergeant “alternately granted and denied” Torres’ accommodation request in the following weeks, eventually denying his request. Another superior “expressed anger” over Torres’ request, the lawsuit said.
Torres claimed that the sergeant also failed to respond to his call for backup during a multi-vehicle accident “in an unsafe area” where Torres had to “tase two fighting suspects” in the presence of a gun.
Two months later, in September 2017, Torres said he was fired from the sheriff’s office “without an explanation.”
Carter fired Torres “because of his religious beliefs and because he continued to request a reasonable religious accommodation from a job duty that violated his sincerely held religious beliefs,” the lawsuit said.
Torres alleged that the Lee County Sheriff’s Office cost him prospective jobs with police departments in Siler City and Apex by informing them about his religious accommodation requests during the hiring process.
Along with Sheriff Carter, Torres is also suing Siler City and Apex for more than $300,000 in damages.
The three agencies did not immediately respond to a request for comment.