Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Utah Police Officer Punished for Objecting to Performing in Gay Pride Parade

If you wonder why the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is needed, ask Eric Moutsos, a former Salt Lake City police officer.  The Washington Times reports:
As a police officer, Eric Moutsos had no problem with working security at a gay-rights parade, but he did have a problem with kicking off the festivities by performing a choreographed routine as part of the department’s motorcycle squad.
Eric Moutsos
As a result, Mr. Moutsos is no longer employed by the Salt Lake City Police Department. He resigned last year after the department ordered him to turn in his badge and his firearm in June, then placed him on administrative leave, for raising objections to the assignment. 
In an interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Moutsos said he hasn’t changed his mind about the department’s role in the parade.
“It looks like we’re doing a type of a celebration in front of the parade,” Mr. Moutsos said. “I didn’t feel OK with being in front of that parade. And I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade, I simply didn’t want to be in one.”   
After seven years on the force, he said he had often come to the aid of members of the local gay community. But as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he was uncomfortable with the message he would have sent by performing in front of the Utah Pride Parade.   
Moutsos made clear that he had no problem working the parade and even attempted to swtich positions with another officer doing traffic safety at the parade.  Moutsos' objection was to being forced to actively participate in a parade to which he had strong religious objections. 
For his boss, however, harboring politically unacceptable views about homosexuality was inconsistent with being a police officer.  Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank told a TV reporter earlier this year:
“I will not tolerate bias, bigotry or hatred in the organization,” he said. “In order to be a police officer, you are to do the duties as assigned. And those duties cover a broad range of activities.”   
“With police officers — and this is the problem across the nation right now — you have to be able to do your job and set your personal feelings aside in order to equally distribute law enforcement and good will from the police department no matter where you are in this country, to every individual regardless of their religion, their race, their creeds, what gender they are or what sexual orientation they might be,”  
As a result of the 1990 Supreme Court decision Employment Division v. Smith that gutted protections provided by the First Amendment Free Exercise Clause, Moutsos has little protection from discipline.  Under Employment Division, Salt Lake City's attorneys could simply say the rule applies equally to all officers and that participation in the parade serves community good will.  Utah does not have a RFRA which restores the pre-Employment Division standard for handling Free Exercise challenges.  If Utah had a RFRA, once Moutsos showed the rule substantially burdened his religious beliefs, the city would have to show that the rule requiring officers to participate in the Salt Lake City Gay Pride Parade served a compelling interest in community outreach and the rule on participation (allowing no one to choose a different assignment) is narrowly drawn to advance that compelling interest. It is unlikely that Salt Lake City could meet the requirements of a RFRA test.

Moutsos might still have a free speech claim given Chief Burbank's foolish comment to the TV reporter that focused on the content of the officer's beliefs as being unacceptable in the department.

During the 2015 legislative session, Utah did pass a bill that expanded the state's anti-discrimination law to include sexual orientation while at the same time providing some mild protections for religious freedom.  Legal experts suggest the new law would not have covered Moutsos' situation.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Pathetic. Why is homosexuality being rammed down our throats? Population control?

Anonymous said...

Let's see: the officer refused an order from his superiors, he refused to take part in a civic celebration while on duty.... Why should he be surprised when he's fired?

Why would a police officer get to pick and choose which city residents he's willing "to protect and to serve"?

What if he doesn't like blacks or Hispanics or Mormons or brunettes?

Get a grip, folks. Equal rights means equal rights under the law for all. Not just for those that (some) Christians deem acceptable. If you're a public employee, you don't get to pick and choose.

Anonymous said...

Am wondering who's idea it was in the beginning to have the police department involved in this parade instead of just "policing" the event?

Anonymous said...

I wonder what the 'choreographed routine' was? What if the police were told they had to wear rainbow colored arm bands as if endorsing the parade merely as a show of good will to the community? What about the ill will the police dept. created when word leaked out that the policeman lost his job due to an unforeseen dictate to violate his conscious or else? Shiver me timbers.

Anonymous said...

He should not be a public police officer then. Many of you have antiquated views and history will judge you just like those against civil rights in the 60s. This is a civil rights issue and cannot be voluntary. The ship has sailed. It is a done deal.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Anon 3:32, Doing a choreographed motorcycle routine in a parade is "protecting and serving" people?

The officer had no problem doing law enforcement duties and had no problem providing them with respect with same sexual couples or those of a different sexual orientation. He was even willing to provide security functions for the parade. He just didn't want to participate in the parade. That's not exactly unreasonable.

The boss' response was that the organizers had paid $90 so they had to participate. So if the Klan and the Nazis have a parade and plunk down $90, he should have to perform in those parades too? No, he wouldn't because it was the officer's beliefs the chief had objection to.

Not sure how preaching tolerance while being extremely intolerant and hostile toward people who have religious objections is moving the ball forward.

I totally agree with Anon 3:42. Police officers, firemen and other public servants shouldn't be participating in parades while on the public dime anyway. If they voluntarily want to participate that's another thing. To compel people to participate in a parade (as opposed to providing law enforcement duties) as part of their job is highly inappropriate.

Anonymous said...

Insubordination...Fired. Thanks for playing.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Anon 5:41, I guess that whole thing called the "Constitution" and "rights" doesn't mean much to you does it?

Anonymous said...

It is great for the police to participate in parades and community events. It helps build a relationship with the community which is important. With community policing, this is part of the job. It is strange to use the Constitution to justify discrimination. The whole deal is that you have an outdated view of gay rights.

Anonymous said...

People have used this religious freedom argument to justify all kinds of discrimination (race and gender discrimination included). Discrimination against gays is wrong and religious views can not be used to justify it morally or legally.The tide has turned just as it did in history to other forms of discrimination. How do you think history will look at this issue? I think it is pretty clear.

Pete Boggs said...

There is no such thing as "gay" rights; categoric exceptions being oxymoronic illogic. There are only, human rights. Subdividing the jurisdictionally unbiased idea of community into special interests groups is patently bigoted.

Anonymous said...

Utter nonsense Pete Boggs. Semantic games do not hide the issue.

Anonymous said...

What's next, a choreographed motorcycle police unit wearing white sheets for a KKK parade just to show equality? What moron police chief would make a policeman perform motorcycle stunts outside his normal protective duties and lose good officers in the process?

Pete Boggs said...

What part of "shall not be infringed," are you unclear about Anon 5:01?