The 1st Amendment in the Firehouse

Click to EnlargeDavid Comstock is a chief for the Western Reserve Joint Fire District in Poland, Ohio; and a practicing attorney for the law firm of Comstock, Springer, and Wilson Co., LPA, in Youngstown, Ohio. His class “The First Amendment in the Firehouse” explored the interaction between a firefighter’s First Amendment rights of free speech, association, and religion vs. a governmental administrator’s right to maintain order and discipline within the fire department. “Each week firefighters face discipline when they speak out on issues of public concern, such as staffing, promotions, discrimination, financial waste, or inadequate training to name a few. Firefighters also find themselves in potential trouble when they participate in union- or religious-based activities. At the same time, fire chiefs and administrators place themselves at risk when they improperly try to restrain their employees’ protected First Amendment activities.” 

Among the many major fire service lawsuits Comstock covered in his class was Firefighter’s Association, District of Columbia v. Barry, which ultimately prevented the use of obscene decals, bumper stickers, and signs on public property to display personal firehouse-related beliefs.

“This class,” Comstock continued, “explored court interpretations of the two groups’ competing interests; it provided guidance in order to determine what future activity might receive protection from the courts and which might otherwise be subject to valid discipline by fire service administrators.”

Comstock’s most recent article, “The Ban on Body Ink,” appeared in the November 2009 issue of Fire Engineering.

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