June 20, 2016
The retirement ceremony of Master Sgt. Chuck Roberson was a memorable one -- but not for the reasons this veteran airman and his family had hoped. After dedicating his career to his country, the last thing Roberson wanted was to turn a proud moment into a national storyline about the military's hostility toward faith. Unfortunately for him, that's exactly what happened, thanks to the stunning intolerance of the commanding officers at Travis Air Force Base. Like many service members, Sgt. Roberson wanted to include the traditional flag-folding speech as part of the festivities. And while the Pentagon officially scrubbed God out of the text in 2005, plenty of service members still opt for the original version at their celebrations -- usually without controversy.
That changed in April when Roberson (to the disgust of his superiors) invited retired Senior Master Sgt. Oscar Rodriguez, a 33-year veteran, to deliver his moving version of the flag-folding speech at the retirement. Despite having the base's approval for Rodriguez to attend, squadron commander Lieutenant Colonel Michael Sovitsky made no secret of his disapproval and tried desperately to block Rodriguez from participating. When that failed, Sovitsky did the unthinkable. While video cameras rolled, four uniformed airmen, stood up during Rodriguez's speech, surrounded him, and dragged him from the building.
Friends and family could hardly believe their eyes. Not only had Sovitsky ruined a day that Roberson would never get back, but he treated Rodriguez like a common criminal for exercising the rights both men spent their careers defending. "It was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life," Rodriguez said later. "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." Once the video went viral, base officials scrambled to explain. In their version of the facts, "Rodriguez ignored numerous requests to respect the Air Force prescribed ceremony and unfortunately was forcibly removed. We will continue to investigate the situation fully."
The Air Force Reserve chimed in too, insisting that it "respects and defends the right to free speech and religious expression." Of whom? Certainly not Christians, who are being driven out of the service while perversion and secularism are welcomed in. "Why do you think people are leaving [the Air Force] in droves?" the officiating officer at Roberson's ceremony wrote on Facebook." Because the guys in the trenches are subjected to nonstop stupidity from commanders who don't deserve the rank, respect, or support of the people they're in charge of." Now, anxious to spare other Christians the same humiliation, Rodriguez is demanding the base's apology, as well as assurances that those responsible for violating his rights would be punished.
As our own Lt. General Jerry Boykin (U.S. Army-Ret.) pointed out, no one is forced to attend a retirement ceremony. So to suggest that it's unconstitutional to speak God's name -- the same God our troops invoke in their military oaths -- is ridiculous on its face. Our friends at First Liberty Institute, who are representing the retired master sergeant, make it quite clear that, "The fact that Mr. Rodriguez was going to mention the word 'God,' at the behest of the retiring service member, is an insufficient basis to silence him, much less commit assault and battery against him, followed by forcibly dragging him away. Ironically, Mr. Rodriguez's speech was also going to state that our nation's flag 'stands for the Constitution... freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of speech.' Yet Lt. Colonel Sovitsky and/or the four NCOs arbitrarily, unreasonably, and discriminatorily denied many of those very freedoms to Mr. Rodriguez."
Military bases aren't faith-free zones. Walking onto an installation like Travis's doesn't mean you surrender your First Amendment rights -- whether you're a private citizen or active duty. Think of the message that sends potential recruits! Uncle Sam wants you to sacrifice your life for freedoms you can't enjoy. Meanwhile, this is just more evidence of Obama's culture of religious hostility that even conservatives couldn't believe. How many more veterans will have to be publicly assaulted before people stand up and demand justice for our Christian service members?
Join us in demanding an apology from Colonel Raymond Kozak, commander of the 349th Air Mobility Wing, to Senior Master Sgt. Oscar Rodriguez, along with his assurances that those responsible will be held accountable. Sign our petition here!
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.