Los Angeles County gives fire captain partial religious exemption in gay pride flag dispute

progress pride flag Credit: Maxim Studio/Shutterstock

A Los Angeles County fire captain has received a partial religious exemption in his dispute with the county over the raising of a gay pride flag, although the captain’s lawyers say the accommodation is “not nearly enough.”

Capt. Jeffrey Little alleged in a May lawsuit that the Los Angeles County Fire Department violated his religious freedom when it ordered him to raise the so-called “Progress Pride” flag at the beach lifeguard station where he worked.

Little, a Christian, had requested a religious exemption to the rule. The lawsuit, filed in part by lawyers with the Thomas More Society, alleged that Little was suspended from his role in a department unit due to the dispute and subjected to an internal investigation.

It also alleged that Little’s superiors breached his privacy by informing unauthorized persons about his request for a religious accommodation, which led to him receiving a death threat in the mail.

In a press release, the Thomas More Society said the fire department had “agreed to partially accommodate” Little’s request to not fly the flag at the lifeguard station. 

The fire department “has made assurances that Little would not be personally responsible for the raising or lowering of the Progress Pride flag because he either will be assigned to stations that are unable to fly the Progress Pride flag throughout June or he will be able to trade shifts to such stations,” the legal group said.

Paul Jonna, who serves as special counsel for the Thomas More Society, told CNA earlier this month that Little’s accommodation request was “extremely narrow,” essentially asking the department to “please have someone else” raise or lower the flag.

Yet the county “continues to refuse to give Little a full and complete religious accommodation,” the group said in its press release. The exemption would include “granting a standing religious accommodation to permanently and comprehensively protect Little’s religious liberty rights.”

Little “must still ensure that his subordinates comply with this objectionable mandate,” the Thomas More Society noted; he will also be required to “renew his request annually and go through the same accommodation request process every year.”

The Thomas More Society said it would be applying for both preliminary and permanent injunctions on Little’s behalf in response to the partial exemption. 

In the statement, Little said that he hoped the lawsuit “encourages productive dialogue between employees of faith and their employers.” 

“No employee should be expected to abandon their faith when entering the workplace,” he said, arguing that he “felt backed into a corner where my faith was incompatible with the requirements of my job.” 

“My prayer is that people of faith will flourish in the workplace and not feel as if they need to hide that part of themselves in order to be successful in their job,” Little said.

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