92K Sign Petition in Support of Air Force Veteran Forced Out of Flag-Folding Ceremony for Mentioning God
Over 90,000 people are calling for the leadership of Travis Air Force Base in California to apologize to Air Force veteran Oscar Rodriguez after he was forcibly removed from a retirement ceremony for mentioning God during a flag-folding ceremony.
The Family Research Council and the American Family Association have delivered petitions addressed to Major Gen. John C. Flournoy and Col. Raymond A. Kozak urging them to apologize to Senior Master Sgt. (Ret.) Rodriguez and Master Sgt. Charles Roberson, who was celebrating his retirement from active duty in April when Rodriguez was ejected from the facility by multiple uniformed Airmen for mentioning God in a speech.
The First Liberty Institute threatened to file a lawsuit against the Air Force in June for violating the free speech and religious freedom rights of Rodriguez and Roberson. Shortly thereafter, the military branch issued the following statement: "Air Force personnel may use a flag folding ceremony script that is religious for retirement ceremonies." Additionally Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James ordered the Air Force Inspector General to investigate the incident with Rodriguez.
Although the First Liberty Institute seemed pleased with the response to their demand letter, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation announced on June 23 that it was considering filing a federal lawsuit against the Air Force on behalf of 14 USAF officers at the Travis Air Force Base.
MRFF argued that the Air Force's statement contradicts its official policy which states that if a script is to be read during a flag-folding ceremony, the secular script must be read.
"The Air Force developed a script that provides a historical perspective on the flag," the official Air Force instruction reads. "There are no ceremonies in the Air Force requiring a script to be read when the flag is folded. However, when a flag folding ceremony is desired and conducted by Air Force personnel at any location, on or off an installation, this script is the only one that may be used."
In a statement to Air Force Times, spokeswoman Capt. Brooke Brzozowske said the AFI will be updated to clarify that religious scripts can be read during the flag foldings at retirement ceremonies.
FRC and the AFA delivered their petitions to Flournoy and Kozak on Monday along with a letter from FRC executive vice president Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Jerry Boykin, a former undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence.
Apart from just issuing an apology for violating Rodriguez's free speech rights, the organizations also want those responsible for Rodriguez's removal to be held accountable for their actions.
"The recent forcible eviction and assault of Senior Master Sergeant Oscar Rodriguez (Ret.) from the retirement ceremony of Master Sergeant Charles Roberson because he was reciting a speech that mentioned God is shameful, illegal, and cannot stand," Boykin wrote. "Our country has enough enemies. Our military should be united in attacking the real forces that threaten our nation, not those who have served with dignity in protecting it."