Mark Hovan is a police officer in Middletown, Pennsylvania, having served as a 20-year veteran of the police department. After going to Mass on August 15th for a Catholic Holy Day of Obligation, however, he was suspended for 10 days, having been charged with “conducting personal business while on duty.”
Mark Hovan has been going to church while on duty for years
As a strong Catholic, Hovan said that he has gone to Mass while on duty rather than miss his church obligations. While at church, Hovan said that he always kept his radio on, he had never missed a call during Mass and he had not violated any department procedures.
According to Press & Journal, going to church during the past two decades while on the clock has not been an issue. In fact, Hovan said that past police chiefs have even encouraged his occasional Mass attendance. In addition, other police officers have attended church while on duty with no repercussions. It wasn’t until the head of the department changed that going to church during work time became a problem.
Chief George Mouchette gave Mark Hovan a warning before suspending him
When Chief George Mouchette became the new department lead, he made it clear that going to church on company time was not allowed. Back in January of this year, Hovan attended 10:30 a.m. Mass at Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church in Middletown. After returning to the police station, Chief Mouchette called Hovan into his office. Chief Mouchette gave Hovan a warning letter that stated that he was to “never conduct personal business on Middletown Police Department time.”
Months later, Hovan attended Mass at the same church on August 15th for the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Chief Mouchette once again called Hovan into his office. “I never lied about it,” Hovan said and acknowledged that he had disobeyed a direct order from Mouchette.
Later on October 27th, Hovan received a letter from Chief Mouchette. The letter informed Hovan that he was to meet with Mouchette on November 7th “to afford you the opportunity to respond to the following charges.” In the letter, four charges of Neglect of Duty/Inefficiency were listed. All four charges were related to Hovan attending Mass while on duty on August 15th, 2017. As a result, the Middletown council voted to suspend Hovan for a 10-day period. The final vote was 4 to 1. Chief Mouchette was not part of the vote and it is unclear if the suspension is with or without pay. Hovan believes that he was unjustly suspended and that his religious freedom rights have been violated. He is currently considering legal action.