Rhode Island Supreme Court Fails to Protect Religious Rights of Firefighters

What would you do if your boss ordered you to participate in a gay pride parade? If homosexuality violates your religious faith, you would be inclined to opt out of having to participate in something that is so sinfully detestable. But if your employer still insisted that you had to participate in the abominable event, what would you do?

This happened to Providence Firefighters Theodore Fabrizio and Stephen Deninno, both of whom are Roman Catholics. In 2001, they were ordered to drive a fire engine in the local gay pride parade. When they expressed their objections to the assignment due to their religion, their superiors made the order a mandate, forcing the two men to take part in something they believe to be morally wrong.

In 2004 they filed lawsuits against then Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci and former Fire Chief James Rattigan. The lawsuits asked for compensatory and punitive damages due to having their freedoms of speech and religion violated.

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The order forcing the two firefighters to participate in the gay pride parade really was not a big surprise considering the actions of Cianci. WND summed up his track record:

“Cianci was the first mayor of Providence to fly the rainbow flag over city hall and to serve as grand marshal of the gay pride parade. In 1997, he was also the first elected official in the state to establish the Office of Gay Liaison within his administration and to appoint members of the city’s LGBTQ community to that position.”

In response to the lawsuits, Cianci responded:

“Our policy was to send a fire truck to any parade that made the request, if one was available and the truck’s participation did not compromise public safety. Why should the gay-pride parade be any different than the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the Purim Parade, or any parade in Providence? It shouldn’t, and it wasn’t.”

The lawsuits have trudged along for 10 years in the courts until finally the Rhode Island State Supreme Court just dismissed them last week. In dismissing the case, the state high court unanimously agreed that being assigned to drive the fire engine in the gay pride parade was a legitimate work assignment.

Writing for the five justices, Justice William Robinson stated:

“The respondents’ appearance in the parade, solely as members of the Providence Fire Department, did not constitute a form of expression on their part. Rather, it was simply the accomplishing of a task assigned to an engine company of the Providence Fire Department.”

Basically, the response or lack thereof by the Rhode Island State Supreme Court allows employers to force their employees to do things that are against their religious beliefs, thus nullifying the First Amendment rights of employees.

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