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A North Carolina police officer is suing for religious discrimination after he said he was fired for refusing to spend extended time with a woman who isn’t his wife, a practice commonly known as the “Billy Graham Rule.”
Manuel Torres, 51, worked as a deputy for the Lee County Sheriff for five years when his boss asked him to train a female deputy in July 2017. Torres requested a religious accommodation, the suit alleges, saying he “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.”
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Torres, a Baptist who serves as a deacon at his local church, said in the suit that training his colleague would leave the appearance of “sinful conduct.”
The complaint alleges after Torres made his accommodation request, the sergeant “alternately granted and denied” him and that his superiors expressed their “anger” over his religious beliefs.
Two months later, on September 11, Torres was fired. He claims months later the Lee County Sheriff’s Office provided false and negative referrals to prospective employers to two different police departments following his dismissal. In one instance, Torres said a prospective employer rescinded their already extended offer after speaking with the sheriff’s office.
The Lee County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to NBC News’ request for comment.
Now a federal court will decide if the case, first reported by the Charlotte Observer, amounts to discrimination. Torres is seeking monetary relief, damages for emotional distress, and compensation for future and lost wages, according to the complaint. The suit appears to be the first time the rule has been brought to court as a religious discrimination matter.
The Billy Graham Rule, popularized by the eponymous Evangelical pastor who followed the practice, has faced renewed attention since it was reported that Vice President Mike Pence follows it. In July, Mississippi Today reporter Larrison Campbell said Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert Foster denied her access to him on the campaign trail, citing the same rule.