Ron Hittle, who is being represented by First Liberty Institute, was fired after 24 years of service for attending a leadership training course at the city's request. But as the course was held at a church, the city saw it as a "religious event" and terminated him for going while he was on duty. Hittle sued, but in March of this year, a District court sided with the city.
First Liberty Institute attorney Stephanie Taub says Stockton city officials were intolerant of Hittle's religious beliefs.
"The city told Fire Chief Hittle to get leadership training, but when he attended one from a Christian perspective, he was investigated and then fired," she summarizes.
"City leadership also disparaged him as being part of a Christian coalition," Taub continues. "This is clear evidence of religious intolerance and discrimination, so we are appealing Fire Chief Hittle's case to the 9th Circuit."
The case is brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It could be months before the appeal reaches the court, where First Liberty Institute will argue that Americans of faith should be free to live and work with integrity.
"Religious employees shouldn't have to hide their faith in order to serve their communities in the workplace," Taub adds.
She says Hittle, who is currently working at a Christian school, has been "relying on God through this whole process."
"Fire Chief Hittle wanted to attend the best conference that he could find in the area. The Global Leadership Summit is a world-class conference hosted by Willow Creek Community Church," the attorney details. "It's largely from a Christian perspective, but they've had speakers from a variety of backgrounds and belief systems [including] Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. But none of that mattered. The religious association was too much for the city, and they illegally fired their fire chief."
The city of Stockton did not respond to AFN's email seeking comment.