US: Rhode Island Supreme Court hears gay pride firefighter appeal

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A case was heard by the Rhode Island Supreme Court Tuesday regarding a lawsuit filed by two firefighters assigned to drive a fire truck in a gay pride parade.

The lawsuit, filed by Stephen DeNinno and Theodore J Fabrizzio, Jr, claims the two firefighters’ religious and free speech rights were violated when they were ordered by then-chief James F Rattigan to drive a fire truck in the 2001 gay pride parade.

Originally filed in 2004, the suit, against Rattigan and then Mayor Buddy Cianci, was brought before the Rhode Island Supreme Court on appeal.

Cianci and Rattigan’s lawyer, Kevin McHugh, argued that fire trucks are present at all city parades, and that driving in the parade was part of the firefighters’ regular duties of community outreach.

Gina DiCenso, the firefighters’ lawyer, said that DeNinno and Fabrizzio’s forced participation in the parade was a show of support for the parade, thus violating their civil liberties.

Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg argued that their participation was as “anonymous public servants” not as individuals.

Outside the courtroom Tuesday Cianci said it was only fair that the pride parade received a fire truck.

He said: “How could I say to the Gay Pride Committee, ‘Oh, you can’t have a fire truck, but the Purim people on the East Side, they can have one, and if the Columbus Day people want one, they can have one’.”

The court is expected to rule later this week.