Two firefighters from Providence, who complained after being requested to drive a fire truck at a gay pride parade, have had lawsuits thrown out by the Rhode Island Supreme Court.
The two men – Theodore Fabrizio and Stephen Deninno – said that their Roman Catholic faith meant they could not ‘support, encourage, nor condone homosexual behavior,’ and that they should have been able to decline taking part in the parade.
The actual incident took part back in summer 2001, and the men filed their lawsuits in 2004 against the former mayor and fire chief. They sought damages for alleged violations of their freedom of religion and speech.
The court heard that they had been asked to take part in the parade as they worked in an engine company that happened to be nearest the route.
Their lawyer said that they asked to be reassigned but the request was declined, and that during the event, they experienced sexual harassment from members of the public attending the parade. They said that they also received harassment from co-workers in the period after the parade.
However, lawyers defending the city point out that fire trucks often took part in city parades, and that it was a work assignment like any other – a point agreed with by Justice William Robinson.
Writing to members of the high court this month, Robinson said, ‘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.’
He added that their appearance at the parade was as ‘relatively anonymous public servants’.
He was also critical of the extremely slow pace at which the case had proceeded through the courts.
His ruling can be read here.