Thursday, May 25, 2023

Court OK's Police Department's Rejection of Religious-Themed Flags and Uniform Patches

In Sangervasi v. City of San Jose, (ND CA, May 22, 2023), a California federal district court dismissed a suit by a police officer William Sangervasi who challenged the police department's refusal to adopt his proposed patch and flag designs. The court explained:

In August 2019, as part of the region’s celebration of Silicon Valley Pride Month, Chief Garcia raised a rainbow-themed LGBTQ pride flag in place of the City of San Jose flag on the flagpole outside SJPD headquarters....

On July 28, 2020, Chief Garcia issued official SJPD Memorandum #2020-33, introducing a rainbow-themed LGBTQ pride shoulder patch for the SJPD uniform.... 

On November 11, 2020, Mr. Sangervasi sent a memorandum to Chief Garcia titled, “Desecration of The Uniform by Memorandum #2020-33.” ... Mr. Sangervasi’s memorandum “detailed his intent to forever protect and defend the sacrosanct neutral and impartial visual appearance of The American Uniform” by submitting various “free speech patch and flag designs” that he wanted the SJPD to adopt.... Mr. Sangervasi proposed patch designs featuring phrases and images such as “natural hetero-sexual pride,” what appears to be Christian rosary beads encircling the traditional SJPD crest, and an image of the Christian archangel Saint Michael.... He proposed flag designs featuring phrases and images including, for example, “father + mother = girls + boys,” “white lives matter,” and the confederate battle flag.... Two days later... Mr. Sangervasi was placed on indefinite administrative leave.... On December 11, 2020, Mr. Sangervasi received a letter from Acting Chief Dave Knopf denying Mr. Sangervasi’s demand that the SJPD adopt Mr. Sangervasi’s patch and flag designs.

The court, rejecting plaintiff's free exercise, free speech and equal protection claims, held:

Mr. Sangervasi does not allege any burden on his sincere religious practice pursuant to a policy that is not neutral or generally applicable. Rather, he complains that, if the SJPD authorizes specialty uniform patches to be worn on a voluntary basis, it must allow him to wear religion-themed patches of his own design.... These allegations fail to state a claim for relief because the City has not created a public forum in which Mr. Sangervasi has a right to express any views, let alone those views that may be grounded in religious practice or belief. In the absence of such a forum and as discussed above, the SJPD’s patch designs amount to government speech and do not burden Mr. Sangervasi’s religious practice.