A Scottish gay group has criticised an unholy alliance of critics towards the nine Glasgow fire-fighters who were reprimanded for snubbing a gay pride march last June, after the Archbishop of Glasgow and a BNP spokesperson defended the public servants.

The Equality Network spoke out against Archbishop Mario Conti and Glasgow BNP organiser Walter Hamilton questioning their dignity in regards to the case.

Nine members of the Strathclyde Fire and Rescue service were enrolled on a diversity training course last week after refusing to hand out standard fire safety leaflets at the Pride Scotia march in Glasgow last month, citing moral reasons.

Walter Hamilton of the Glasgow BNP argued that this was “politically correct bullying” and that the fire-fighters had “refused to take part in the event on moral grounds”.

Echoing the BNP’s comments, Archbishop Conti of Glasgow said: “That the officers concerned are being forced to undergo ‘diversity training’ is alarming. The duty to obey one’s conscience is a higher duty than that of obeying orders.”

A spokesperson for the Equality Network, a national network of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups and people in Scotland, said: “When an organisation – school, hospital, or fire brigade – is providing a public service, it is bound by the ethics of public service not to discriminate against any members of the community it serves.

“We think that Strathclyde Fire and Rescue reacted appropriately to the fire-fighters who mistakenly thought otherwise.

“We would have reacted as strongly if fire-fighters had refused to staff a fire safety stall at a Roman Catholic school, and we are disappointed that the Archbishop feels that prejudice overrides public responsibilities.”

A Pride Scotia Glasgow spokesperson said: “We are dismayed at the lack of dignity displayed by the Archbishop in his response to the disciplinary action taken by Strathclyde Fire and Rescue.

“He states that ‘fire-fighters had legitimate concerns about being the subject of taunts and jokes…’ LGBT people are often the subject of taunts and jokes, exactly because of bigoted views such as this.

“People like the Archbishop are in a position of respect and authority and are obliged not to act in ways that will exacerbate discriminatory behaviour. He goes on to say that ‘the duty to obey one’s conscience is a higher duty than that of obeying orders’.

“Surely this very remark highlights that to most people the matter of conscience when working in a service such as the Fire Service would ensure that saving lives would be a priority.

“In terms of the men being forced to undergo diversity training, Strathclyde Fire and Rescue already have an impressive Diversity and Training package, the only drawback to which seems to be its failure in being cascaded down to rank and file staff.”