Columbia police officers protest gay Pride participation

Officers: Marching in gay event violates religious belief

by Matt Comer  Editor
Published: October 4, 2013 in News

Interim Columbia Police Chief Ruben Santiago.

Interim Columbia Police Chief Ruben Santiago.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Complaints and controversy have arisen in the Columbia Police Department following the Sept. 28 SC Pride parade. According to The State, two veteran police officers protested interim Chief Ruben Santiago’s order to march in the gay Pride parade.

The officers said participating in the event would violate their religious beliefs. Officials, however, said the officers were violating a director order. That order was later rescinded when City Manager Teresa Wilson, Assistant City Manager Allison Baker and Santiago learned enough volunteers had stepped forward to participate.

One of the officers later chose to participate in the parade, at the prompting of Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine, who said she had encouraged the officer to march.

Santiago said he issued the order to ensure enough participation and representation for the department in the event. Baker said religious beliefs do not exempt an officer from his or her duties.

“There is no policy to give them foundation to claim (a religious exemption),” he said.

Santiago said officers do not have the discretion to pick and choose their assignments. A police department employee also wrote Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin saying officers are sworn to serve and protect all citizens, not just those they accept.

The writer said the oath officers take is to serve and protect everyone, not just people they accept. Officers cannot pick and choose assignments, the writer said.

Santiago has said the department will launch an internal education campaign so officer will “be more diligent when we put out directives … or for voluntary actions.”

One of the officers had reportedly hired an attorney and planned to sue the city. No lawsuit has been filed.

The names of the officers have not been released.