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Mention of 'God' becomes serious drag for U.S. military

Oscar Rodriquez (Photo: First Liberty)

The U.S. Air Force is being sued for refusing to release the results of its investigation into an incident in which Air Force personnel dragged away a retired military officer, allegedly because he mentioned “God” in an airman’s retirement ceremony.

The nonprofit legal defense group First Liberty Institute said Oscar Rodriguez had been invited to make a speech about the folding of the American flag at an airman’s retirement ceremony in which he mentioned God.

In the April 2016 incident at Travis Air Force base, Rodriguez was confronted by uniformed airmen who forcibly dragged him away.

The organization posted a video online of the assault:

And it also posted Rodriguez’s explanation of how the incident developed:

First Liberty said the incident developed when the commanding officer of Master Sergeant Charles “Chuck” Roberson, who was retiring, found out Rodriguez was scheduled to give a flag-folding speech he’d done many times and “attempted to prevent Rodriguez from attending.”

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“After learning he lacked authority to prevent Rodriguez from attending, the commander then told Roberson that Rodriguez could not give the speech. Rodriguez asked Roberson what he should do, and Roberson responded that it was his personal desire that Rodriguez give the flag-folding speech as planned.”

In June 2016, First Liberty sent a demand letter to the Air Force claiming legal and constitutional violations.

Two days later, then-Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James ordered the Air Force inspector general to conduct an investigation into the incident. The Air Force actually conducted two separate investigations – one addressing Rodriguez’ First Amendment claims, the other addressing Fourth and Fifth Amendment claims – but it has only released the First Amendment investigation, First Liberty said.

The Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeks the results of the investigation, which are needed to determine whether further legal action is needed.

“The Air Force’s refusal to turn over the results of its investigation has caused undue delay to First Liberty’s representation of Rodriguez as he seeks justice for an incident that occurred over one year ago,” the organization explained in its announcement.

“The Air Force is clearly hiding something,” said Mike Berry, director of military affairs for First Liberty Institute. “Federal law requires the government to make a determination within 20 days of a FOIA request, yet it’s been over 200 days and we haven’t received anything but delays. Whatever the Air Force is hiding, it must be really bad for them.”

The organization said the law appears to be on Rodriguez’ side.

“Because Rodriguez is a private citizen, he has every right to mention the word ‘God’ under the First Amendment of the Constitution,” the legal team explained.

“The Air Force had no right to assault a citizen, much less a 33-year military veteran, because they didn’t want him to mention ‘God,'” said Berry. “Mr. Rodriguez has a constitutional right to free speech and religious expression, even on a military base.”

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