Air Force Base Silences Veteran for Using the Word ‘God’ in a Retirement Speech

Air Force Base Silences Veteran for Using the Word ‘God’ in a Retirement Speech

Leah Jessen

veteran-first-amendment-constitutionUniformed airmen forcibly removed an Air Force veteran from a military base because he invoked God in a speech for a retirement ceremony, according to the legal group that represents him.

They escorted Oscar Rodriguez Jr. from the “flag-folding” ceremony as the 33-year veteran began his remarks at Travis Air Force Base in California.

“It was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life,” Rodriguez, who retired from the Air Force as a senior master sergeant, said in a June 20 press release prepared by his lawyers. He added:

I have given more than three decades of service to the military and made many sacrifices for my country. To have the Air Force assault me and drag me out of a retirement ceremony simply because my speech included the word ‘God’ is something I never expected from our military.

Rodriguez was set to deliver the flag-folding speech at Master Sgt. Charles “Chuck” Roberson’s retirement ceremony April 3 at Travis Air Force Base.

Roberson had heard Rodriguez give the speech at a friend’s retirement ceremony and invited Rodriguez to give the same speech for him according to First Liberty Institute, a legal organization that defends the religious freedom of Americans.

Rodriguez enlisted in the Air Force Army Reserve in 1980. He started out training as an avionic technician and later was promoted to section chief. He retired in 2013 as senior master sergeant.

His speech mentions God about six times, Mike Berry, senior counsel and director of military affairs at First Liberty Institute, told The Daily Signal.

“It is this one nation under God that we call, with honor, the United States of America,” a transcript of the speech says. “God bless our flag. God bless our troops. God bless America.”

Roberson’s unit commander at Travis Air Force Base tried to prevent Rodriguez from attending the ceremony, his lawyers say. They say the commander lacked the authority to prevent Rodriguez from attending, but then told Roberson that Rodriguez could not give the speech.

Roberson and Rodriguez tried to clear the speech through higher authorities at Travis, but did not receive a response, according to First Liberty Institute.

“Contrary to what the commanding officer here has told Chuck and Oscar, you can have religious speech in a retirement ceremony,” Berry told The Daily Signal, referring to Roberson and Rodriguez.

The ceremony initially went on as planned. When Rodriguez began his speech, though, uniformed personnel forcibly grabbed and removed him, Berry said.

First Liberty Institute issued a demand letter to military leaders, asking them to apologize to Rodriguez and hold responsible parties accountable for their actions.

“The United States military has no right to do this to a private citizen,” Berry said.

Saying the actions against Rodriguez are unlawful and violate the Constitution, Berry told The Daily Signal:

We’ve seen enough instances of religious hostility in our military now over the last several years, and it continues to get worse and worse every year … I really think Congress needs to step in now and begin mandating constitutional training for our military leaders so that they understand that just because they wear a uniform and just because they have a large amount of authority as a commanding officer in the military, it doesn’t give them carte blanche to break the law or to trample over the Constitution.

“Rodriguez ignored numerous requests to respect the Air Force prescribed ceremony and unfortunately was forcibly removed,” a Travis Air Force Base official said in a statement to FoxNews.com in April.

Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, told The Daily Signal that the Air Force took the correct action by removing Rodriguez. Weinstein said it’s important to follow Defense Department directives, instructions, and regulations.

“The Air Force Instruction 1-1 Section 2.12 makes it very, very clear” that the commander is responsible for everything that happens on the base, Weinstein said.

Rodriguez’s rights are different on a military installation at an official ceremony than at a private, unofficial ceremony, he said.

“We feel the Air Force probably should have court-martialed [Roberson] here,” Weinstein said.

A Travis Air Force Base spokesman told The Daily Signal that there is a local investigation into the situation.

“The Secretary of the Air Force has directed the Air Force inspector general to conduct an independent investigation into events that took place April 3, 2016, at a retirement ceremony at Travis Air Force Base, California,” Capt. Brooke Brzozowske told The Daily Signal in an email.

Brzozowske added:

Regarding the Air Force policy on retirement ceremonies, Air Force personnel may use a flag-folding ceremony script that is religious for retirement ceremonies. Since retirement ceremonies are personal in nature, the script preference for a flag-folding ceremony is at the discretion of the individual being honored and represents the member’s views, not those of the Air Force. The Air Force places the highest value of the rights on its personnel in matters of religion and facilitates the free exercise of religion by its members.

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