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Former sheriff's deputy files lawsuit claiming he was fired for not wanting to be alone with a woman

A North Carolina man who worked as a sheriff's deputy filed a lawsuit earlier this month alleging that he was wrongfully terminated because he objected to training a female employee alone, arguing that he follows the "Billy Graham rule," which prohibits men from spending extended periods of time alone with women who are not their wife.   

Manuel Torres, 51, argues that the Lee County Sheriff's Office fired him in 2017 after he told the department that he could not be alone with a female deputy in his patrol car. The lawsuit states that 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," The Charlotte Observer reported.

The case marks the first time the "Billy Graham rule" will be tried in court, Grant Wacker, a professor at Duke Divinity School and the author of "America's Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation," told The Washington Post.

Graham, an influential evangelical Southern Baptist minister who rose to international fame in the 1950s, reportedly made a point of never traveling, meeting alone, or eating with a woman other than his wife.

Torres, who also sometimes serves as a deacon for the East Sanford Baptist Church in Sanford, N.C., according to The Charlotte Observer, said he joined the sheriff's office in 2012. In July 2017, he asked his superiors for a religious accommodation because training a woman would create "the appearance of sinful conduct" if he had to be alone in his patrol car with her. 

Torres's request was denied, and the case alleges that a sergeant retaliated against him by not sending backup when Torres responded to a car crash.

The lawsuit also claims that a superior officer "expressed his anger" at Torres in September 2017 about the repeated requests, and that he was summarily fired days later.

Torres also alleges that the North Carolina towns of Siler City and Apex rejected him for a job because the sheriff's office gave them negative references. The lawsuit is against the sheriff's office and both towns.

The Hill has reached out to the Lee County Sheriff's Office for comment.

Being fired caused Torres "loss of income and benefits; loss of quality and enjoyment of life; (and) loss of reputation," according to the lawsuit. He is seeking $300,000 in compensatory damages and $15,000 in punitive damages, according to the Observer. 

The Billy Graham rule has been in the spotlight after being cited by multiple Republican politicians in recent years. Vice President Pence came under fire in 2017 for saying in an old interview with The Hill that he does not eat alone with women other than his wife, Karen Pence, and he avoids events with alcohol when she cannot attend.

A Mississippi gubernatorial candidate, state Rep. Robert Foster (R), was criticized in July for not allowing a female reporter to cover his campaign alone. 

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