WATCH: Air Force veteran allegedly dragged off base for saying ‘God’
June 23, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – The Pentagon has launched an investigation into why a retired veteran with 33 years service was dragged off a military base, allegedly for saying the word “God,” clarifying that members of the armed forces are not prohibited from using religious language during private ceremonies.
Senior Master Sergeant (SMSgt.) Oscar Rodriguez Jr. has a reputation as a stirring speaker, delivering a speech during flag folding ceremonies that infuses patriotism with a prayer for the men in uniform.
When Master Sgt. Charles Roberson scheduled his retirement ceremony on April 3 at Travis Air Force Base, he asked SMSgt. Rodriguez to give his speech at the retirement ceremony, complete with its invocation of God.
But Roberson's commanding officer, Lt. Col. Michael Sovitsky, “did not want Mr. Rodriguez to engage in religious speech during the retirement ceremony,” according to Rodriguez's attorneys at the First Liberty Institute, a legal nonprofit dedicated to the freedom of religion.
Despite Sovitsky's attempts to dissuade him from showing up, Rodriguez, who served in the U.S. Air Force Reserve from 1980 to 2013, decided to give the speech Roberson requested, anyway.
“You’re really going to do this?” uniformed officers asked him as he walked to the front of the assembly.
As he began speaking, officers grabbed him and held him as he passionately continued delivering his prepared remarks.
“I was very embarrassed and humiliated in front of my family and friends,” said Msgt. Roberson in a video released earlier this week.
First Liberty Institute released a highlight video and the full video of the incident, as well as the full speech SMSgt. Rodriguez is known for giving.
In a letter sent on Monday, the attorneys requested a formal admission of wrongdoing, an apology, assurance that no further physical actions will be taken against Rodriguez for giving his speeches, and punitive actions against those “determined to be responsible for violating Mr. Rodriguez’s constitutional rights.”
On Wednesday, the Secretary of the Air Force, Deborah Lee James, told media outlets that she ordered the Air Force inspector general to review the incident.
The Air Force also affirmed in an official statement that the word “God” had not been banished from servicemen's vocabulary.
“Air Force personnel may use a flag folding ceremony script that is religious for retirement ceremonies," said Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek. "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.”
Courts have consistently held, for the past 50 years, that the government may not sponsor religious speech, but that individuals may exercise their First Amendment rights to discuss religion openly on government property – including schools and military bases.
In its statement, the Air Force said it “places the highest value of the rights of its personnel in matters of religion and facilitates the free exercise of religion by its members.”
Michael Berry, the director of military affairs at First Liberty Institute, said it was a good start but more needs to be done.
“We view the Pentagon’s action today as a positive first step towards not only acknowledging that religious scripts may be used at retirement ceremonies, but also ensuring these kinds of situations are not repeated,” Berry said.
The full text of his offending flag speech is as follows:
Our flag is known as the stars and stripes. The union consists of white stars on a blue field, symbolic of a new constellation. Each star represents one individual state and together they stand united indivisible. The stripes represent the original 13 colonies that declared their independence from Great Britain in 1776. The one official, red, is symbolic for the blood of those who have given their lives to defend and protect our great nation from all of her enemies, both foreign and domestic. White represents purity, innocence, and hope. Blue is for vigilance, perseverance, and justice.
But in our hearts our flag stands for many things, evident in the Declaration of Independence where all men are created equal with rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; the right of the people to alter or abolish any form of government that becomes destructive.
Our flag stands for the Constitution of the United States of America. Freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of speech. It provides for security to all of her citizens, it also provides for a fair and swift trial. It abolished slavery and it gives each and every individual of age the right to participate in our voting process—to have a say in his or her’s future.
Our flag is a beacon, recognized around the world to represent freedom during times of peace, or during times of war. This is what we live for. This is what we will fight for, and if necessary to touch the hand of God in her defense, the charge that we accept as Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines is a noble one for there is no heart stronger than that of a volunteer. Let us pray that God will reflect with admiration the willingness of one nation in her attempt to rid the world of tyranny, oppression, and misery. It is this one nation under God that we call, with honor, the United States of America.
God bless our flag.
God bless our troops.
God bless America.