This column by ACRU Senior Legal Analyst Ken Klukowski was published August 25, 2013 on Breitbart.com.
Senior Master Sgt. Phillip Monk has served in the U.S. Air Force for 19 years with a clean service record. But his new lesbian commander has relieved him of duty and is threatening his career, allegedly because of his Christian beliefs regarding gay marriage. Officials are investigating as Monk appeals his punishment.
Monk was First Sergeant of the 326th Training Squadron, stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. According to his attorneys, Monk recently returned from a deployment and found he had a new commander, Maj. Elisa Valenzuela, who is openly lesbian.
Monk explained to Fox News that in one of their first meetings, Valenzuela discussed wanting a chaplain to offer a benediction, but she, "objected to one particular chaplain that she called a bigot because he preached that homosexuality is a sin." Monk says the commander's response was, "I don't know what kind of people actually believe that kind of crap."
Monk is a devout evangelical Christian, and as such he believes marriage is the union of one man and one woman.
Fox News' Todd Starnes reported that there was an episode involving Valenzuela with an Air Force trainer discussing gay marriage. The trainer referenced the decline of the Roman Empire, and Monk explained to Shannon Bream on Fox & Friends that the trainer was lecturing on how such issues can divide society with detrimental effects.
Valenzuela allegedly wanted to harshly punish this trainer, and solicited Monk's recommendations on how to respond. Monk suggested the commander use it as an opportunity to teach tolerance and diversity instead. Valenzuela told Monk that they were not on the same page, and that if he did not get on his commander's page he would not be allowed to continuing serving in his current position.
Then Valenzuela gave Monk an order, demanding Monk tell her whether he regards those who oppose gay marriage as discriminating against homosexuals. His attorneys add that he was told that supporting gay marriage was now military policy, and that he was not allowed to disagree with that policy.
Monk claims he responded that he could not answer Valenzuela's question the way she wanted, and that he feared expressing his true beliefs could put him in legal jeopardy.
Monk was then relieved of his duties.
"I was essentially fired for not validating my commander's position [regarding] homosexual marriage," Monk explained to Fox News.
Monk is one year away from retirement. He originally considered accepting his punishment quietly to get to his 20-year mark, thinking of his responsibilities to provide for his family.
But when recently reading the Bible with his family, Monk was instructing his sons about the importance of standing up for their beliefs. He felt a deep sense of conviction that he needed to lead them by example, speaking up in his own situation.
Monk contacted Liberty Institute, a public-interest law firm that specializes in protecting religious liberty. Liberty Institute had recently established a hotline for military service members whose religious-liberty rights are being violated (800-259-9109).
Liberty Institute's general counsel, Jeff Mateer, tells Breitbart News that, "hostility to religious faith in the military is rampant and increasing at an alarming rate." Mateer says they receive many phone calls from those seeking help, but who wish to remain anonymous.
A spokesman for Lackland denies that Monk was relieved of duty, saying that Monk's assignment was complete, and that is why he is no longer serving in his former post. Referring to Valenzuela and Monk, the spokesman added, "They did have a disagreement, but supposedly, they agreed to disagree."
Another lawyer at Liberty Institute, Michael Berry, refuted the military's claim:
Monk was not due to rotate to a new assignment until September, as military documents confirm. And typically, when you're due to rotate to a new assignment, that follows a period where you are being shadowed by your replacement to allow for a smooth transition. Another thing they did—which is a drastic departure from standard procedure—is that he was told you are not permitted to return to this unit. He was banned from returning to his training squadron, and had to receive special permission even to pick up his personal items.
Berry said Monk was told, "Don't come back on Monday."
Those documents became public on Aug. 20, when Liberty Institute filed a formal equal-opportunity complaint and a request for redress with the military. Orders dated June 27 stated that Monk's assignment would not end until Sept. 30. According to official filings, the hostile encounter with Valenzeula occurred on or around July 25. Then Monk received new orders on Aug. 13, informing him that on the very next day, Aug. 14, he would no longer be part of his training squadron, and was being assigned to a new unit.
As a first step, this complaint has been filed with Valenzuela, informing her that, "your conduct constitutes unlawful discrimination." The complaint cites Department of Defense Directive 1020.02, which the complaint says provides that, "discrimination against individuals or groups based on religion is contrary to good order and discipline [in the military], counterproductive to combat readiness and mission accomplishment, and shall not be condoned." Valenzuela's decision can be appealed to the wing commander, then all the way up the chain of command to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in the Pentagon.
Breitbart News spoke with Collen McGee, a spokeswoman for the training unit to which Monk was previously assigned. McGee said they disputed several of Monk's contentions, but that the wing commander at Lackland had ordered a formal investigation of this situation, and that she would not comment on many specifics until the investigation was complete.
McGee added that they were committed to following military policy regarding this situation. She provided a copy of current Air Force policy, AFI 1-1, regarding religious freedom, but also admitted that the policy says nothing about religious-viewpoint speech by service members. Also Section 126.96.36.199 of this policy provides that "harassing" persons based on sexual orientation could be forbidden.
McGee also provided Breitbart News with Local Operating Instruction 36-03. Section 188.8.131.52 forbids language that "degrades, belittles, or demeans," or "slanders" anyone's "sexual orientation," and includes specifically that language can be forbidden if it insinuates that such conduct is "immoral." When asked if observant Christians expressing orthodox Christian beliefs regarding sexuality and/or marriage would be regarded as violating this prohibition, McGee had no comment.
Mateer says this incident is part of a pattern emerging throughout the military under President Obama. Mateer says many service members do not "come forward publicly due to fear of retribution, which would destroy their military careers." Mateer explains that these instances are increasingly widespread, but most service members feel constrained not to speak out because they want to keep serving their country and also need to provide for their families.
Breitbart News has reported in recent months about serious threats to religious liberty—especially for observant Christians—in the military. As previously reported, the Obama-Hagel Pentagon held a series of meetings with an anti-Christian activist with a record of making shockingly-offensive statements against service members of traditional faith, and recently an ordained Christian chaplain was officially censored for merely quoting the old adage that there are no atheists in fox holes.
Now the career of an airman with 19 years in the Air Force is threatened, evidently because of his orthodox Christian beliefs. The First Amendment protects religious liberty, and forbids government from compelling a person to express any opinion they do not share.
These unprecedented issues regarding troops' First Amendment rights have led Congress to move new legislation that would protect troops against such hostility, which has passed the House and is pending in the Senate. President Obama threatens to veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.