A Southern Baptist deacon has filed a federal lawsuit claiming religious discrimination after losing his job as a sheriff’s deputy allegedly for following the “Billy Graham Rule” against spending time alone with a woman other than his wife.
Manuel Torres, a 51-year-old member and deacon at East Sanford Baptist Church in Sanford, North Carolina, claimed in a petition filed July 31 the Lee County Sheriff’s Office fired him without explanation in 2017 after he repeatedly sought relief from an order to train a female deputy.
Torres, who regularly attends and serves as a deacon at the congregation affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and Sandy Creek Baptist Association, cited a “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.”
The so-called Billy Graham Rule – adopted in the 1940s to keep men in the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association free from scandal as they traveled across the country – is more recently identified with Vice President Mike Pence, who sparked curiosity when First Lady Karen Pence revealed in a 2017 Washington Post interview that her husband never eats alone with a woman other than his wife.
The rule continues to pop up from time to time, such as last month when a Republican candidate for governor in Mississippi asked that a female reporter shadowing his campaign bring along a male counterpart to avoid “opportunities for an awkward situation.”
Proponents of the rule say it prevents sexual misconduct and shields men from false insinuations or accusations. “I personally believe that the rule is wise and ought to be pursued with rigor by Christians who are serious about holiness and witness,” Denny Burk, a Boyce College professor and president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, said in a recent blog.
Critics say it demeans women by treating them only as sex objects, implying they are somehow responsible for men’s misbehavior and, in some cases, holding them back professionally.
Southern Methodist University law school professor Joanna Grossman wrote in a Vox article in 2017 that if practiced by a boss in a work setting, the Billy Graham Rule could violate federal law prohibiting job discrimination based on an employee’s sex.
In his lawsuit, former Deputy Torres said being ordered to train a woman as a deputy would “include the requirement that he spend significant periods of time alone in his patrol car with the female officer trainee.”
Such a job duty, he added, would violate his “religious beliefs against being alone for periods of time with female(s) who is/are not his wife and leaving the appearance of sinful conduct on his part.”
The lawsuit also lodged complaints against police departments in Apex and Siler City, North Carolina, which Torres claims considered hiring him until they found out about why he lost his former job and the religious discrimination claim.