Family Research Council


A Colonel of Truth in the USAF

November 13, 2017

After flying in the B-2 bomber, Air Force Colonel Leland Bohannon knows a thing or two about stealth. And the attack against his faith isn't it. In fact, the military seems to be going out of its way to punish the Christian dad of five, despite a distinguished career defending the same freedom the Air Force is intent on taking from him.

Like a lot of service members, Colonel Bohannon was relieved when President Trump signed the executive order protecting religious freedom. But that same May, he found out the hard way that not everyone in the military had gotten the memo. Instead of encouraging faith, Air Force officials were continuing the Obama policy of punishing it. The controversy started when someone approached Colonel Bohannon about signing a "certificate of spouse appreciation" for an airman in a same-sex marriage. A devoted Christian, Bohannon couldn't, in good conscience, celebrate a relationship that violated biblical truth. After talking with the command chaplain and a staff judge advocate, he asked for a religious accommodation.

Six weeks passed. The Air Force responded to his request by doing nothing. The accommodation letter was returned without an answer, leaving Bohannon completely defenseless in what had become a major flare-up with his superiors. After the airman complained to the Equal Opportunity office, investigators took on the case, ultimately accusing Bohannon of "unlawful discrimination on the basis of his sexual orientation." To most people's surprise, officials didn't care if Bohannon had gotten an exception. Even if the "accommodation been granted," they wrote, "Colonel Bohannon would nonetheless be guilty of unlawful discrimination."

The colonel was stunned. Not as stunned as he would be in the coming weeks, when he was suspended, given a poor performance appraisal, and virtually guaranteed that he would never be promoted again. For Bohannon, who is a decorated combat officer, the news was devastating. "His career is likely over," First Liberty Institute's Michael Berry told Fox News's Todd Starnes, "and he will likely have to retire as a colonel instead of a general." Berry, who's representing Bohannon in the case, could only shake his head. "This sends a clear message -- if you do not have the politically correct viewpoint, you are not welcome in the military. The military is no longer a place of diversity and inclusion if you are a person who holds to a traditional belief on marriage."

Unfortunately for people like Colonel Bohannon, religious hostility in the military didn't disappear when Barack Obama did. There are still plenty of bureaucrats and political appointees determined to carry on the intolerant legacy of the last eight years. That will be harder to do now, under a commander-in-chief like Donald Trump. But, even with a new president, it takes time to identify and uproot the problem areas in a department of almost three million people. The executive order is certainly a huge step, especially since the Department of Justice's guidance included the DOD. But so far, the Defense Department hasn't issued a specific follow-up guidance like we saw with the Department of Agriculture last week.

FRC is encouraging the Air Force -- and the rest of the military -- to do exactly that so that people like Colonel Bohannon aren't forced to check their faith at the base's gates. After all, as FRC's Travis Weber points out:

"[The DOJ's religious freedom] memorandum relies on current law -- the First Amendment, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and Department of Defense Instruction (DODI) 1300.17 -- which all protect religious freedom in the military, and thus protect Col Bohannon. Indeed, DODI 1300.17 requires an accommodation to be granted unless a military interest overrides it. All of these authorities clearly require the government to protect Col Bohannon's religious freedom by not forcing him to personally sign the certificate."

What better way to celebrate Veterans Day than correcting this wrong to service members' rights? With our friends at First Liberty Institute, we call on the military to make it clear through their own guidance that service members are free to exercise the same liberties they're fighting for. Join 17,000 others who've signed our petition to Secretary Wilson on behalf of Colonel Bohannon -- and every Christian brave enough to wear the uniform.

Then, check out FRC's Lt. General Jerry Boykin, as he shares his unique perspective on Veterans Day in this CBN interview.


Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.


The Verdict Is in on Trump's Judges

November 13, 2017

If Republicans don't appreciate Donald Trump now, they will later. That's when his biggest accomplishment -- the courts -- will reap the most rewards. For the last 10 months, the White House has been working at a frantic pace to confirm originalist judges, a quest that's not only making history -- but securing it.

Not since Richard Nixon has any president moved faster or more strategically on judicial nominees than Donald Trump. And while the Supreme Court is what captures most people's attention, the real work is being done a step below -- on the appellate level. That's where, experts say, the real genius comes in.

In a fascinating article, even the New York Times can't help but notice (with reluctant admiration) how the Trump team has intentionally gone about balancing the courts from the Obama years. "There has never been anything like what we've been able to do together with judges," the president said recently. He's right. By filling the appellate courts with constitutionalists, Trump's team is making sure that Americans get a fair shake from the judges who hand down the majority of the country's rulings. As the Times points out, "The 12 regional appeals courts wield profound influence over Americans' lives, getting the final word on about 60,000 cases a year that are not among the roughly 80 the Supreme Court hears."

While most of the country only tunes in to the SCOTUS fights, the reality is that most of these hot-button issues are being decided in the circuit courts below. That makes the president's focus all the more important. In its interesting article, "Trump is rapidly reshaping the judiciary. Here's how," the Times explains that this plan dates back to last year, when legal experts huddled to talk about a "secret battle plan to fill the federal appeals courts with young and deeply conservative judges." With the help of Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Republicans have delivered plenty of victories on that front, confirming eight -- with more on the horizon. Thanks to Grassley, the Senate has kept up with the White House's frantic pace, despite the Democrats' stalling tactics.

And while the GOP is used to obstruction from Democrats, it was surprised to see some from its own party. For reasons few understand, Senator John Kennedy (R-La.) is standing in the way of Trump's ninth federal court win -- Kyle Duncan, the White House's pick for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. In a rare move, the senator from my home state refuses to endorse Duncan, a man many call a "conservative superstar." As a solicitor general and law firm partner, he expertly tackled some of the most difficult issues, including marriage, the HHS mandate, bathroom bills, and gender identity. The Judicial Crisis Network calls him "one of the best lawyers of his generation." I would hope that Senator Kennedy would join his fellow Republicans in moving on Duncan's confirmation -- and send another stellar judge to the bench.

In the meantime, conservatives who said the courts were the deciding factor in the 2016 elections have to be happy with the results. Even the New York Times can't help but notice: "Mr. Trump is poised to bring the conservative legal movement... to a new peak of influence over American law and society."

For more on the president's judicial accomplishments (and otherwise), cut through the fake news with this Daily Wire's column, "Trump's First Year in Office Has Been Wildly Successful."


Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.


The Maine Character in Prayer Suit Wins!

November 13, 2017

It was a small sentence -- "I will pray for you" -- but it meant big trouble for Cony High School technician Toni Richardson. When Richardson offered that comfort to another Christian on staff in private, she was hauled before school officials and warned not to utter a word about her faith again.

District officials kicked off the controversy last year by telling Toni that she could "face discipline or dismissal in the future" if she expressed her faith so openly again. "I was shocked that my employer punished me for privately telling a co-worker I would pray for them," she told reporters at the time.

First Liberty Institute's Jeremy Dys, who filed a complaint on Toni's behalf, explained that it had been a hard 12 months for Richardson since then. "This entire year Toni has had to self-censor herself, making sure she's not using religious language. ...She's even had to refrain from wearing jewelry that has a cross on it, because if someone were to overhear this private conversation or see that religious imagery round her neck, then she could face discipline or even be terminated."

Fortunately, after a year-long clash over religious freedom, school officials have apparently had second thoughts about their attacks. Late last week, our friends at First Liberty proclaimed victory, announcing that the district had officially walked back its threat to Richardson and issued a new memorandum giving Toni and others the right to make faith-based statements – without fear of school discipline. Augusta administrators said they recognized "the rights of employees to hold and express religious beliefs and it never was our intent to unlawfully restrict those rights."

It's a sad commentary on America, FRC's Travis Weber pointed out, that trying to encourage someone by telling them you're "praying for them" would even draw a complaint. But it's also an encouraging example for Christians about what we can accomplish when we stand up with courage and conviction. Toni didn't back down when the forces of political correctness came knocking. She knew her rights and demanded they be respected. We applaud First Liberty Institute and Toni for their persistence. Let this be a warning to other school districts that try to intimidate teachers and other staff members of faith. Christians will fight back, and despite the claims of the Left to the contrary, the Constitution is on their side!

To hear the story from Toni, check out this interview we did on "Washington Watch."


Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.


FRC in the Spotlight

November 13, 2017

Don't miss the latest on the Jack Phillips's case from FRC's Travis Weber, "The First Amendment Protects a Dissenting Cake Baker, Not State Coercion" in the Daily Signal. Also, Arina Grossu backs one Louisiana senator for telling the truth about abortion in a new Townhall column, "Sen. Cassidy Was Right: Most Planned Parenthood Businesses Are in Urban Areas."


Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.



Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.


Previous Washington Update Articles »