Jordan Candler / April 4, 2018

At Last — A Military Religious Liberty Win

“Colonel Bohannon had the right to exercise his sincerely held religious beliefs and did not unlawfully discriminate.”

A win for religious liberty in the military is not something we hear much of these days, but alas, miracles occasionally do happen. Leland Bohannon is a colonel in the Air Force who was unfairly denied the rank of one-star general last year. A longtime friend of his explains in a blog post the events that led to “Bo’s” being denied a promotion:

> Last May, Bo declined to sign a spouse appreciation certificate for a retiring master sergeant’s same-sex spouse, claiming he could not in all good conscience do it. As a committed Christian, he does not believe in same-sex marriage. Instead, he asked a superior officer to sign the certificate and that superior officer did. Case closed. Except it wasn’t. The retiring master sergeant took offense at Bo’s actions and filed an Equal Opportunity discrimination complaint. Even though Bo had sought every opportunity and used every proper channel to create a solution for all parties, it wasn’t good enough and when the Equal Opportunity investigators ruled against Bo, he was relieved of command and his promotion halted.

Most Muslims are also against same-sex marriage, but it’s not exactly a mystery how investigators would have behaved differently had Bohannon opposed the certificate as a Muslim instead of as a Christian. To his great credit, Bohannon refused to acquiesce and recruited First Liberty Institute as his legal counsel. Some Republican members of Congress chimed in also, urging Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson to rectify the situation. And rectify it she did, freeing him from the shackles of anti-Christian hostility and resuming his career.

According to Secretary Wilson, “Colonel Bohannon had the right to exercise his sincerely held religious beliefs and did not unlawfully discriminate when he declined to sign the certificate of appreciation for the same-sex spouse of an airman in his command.” Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC), says “the news of his reinstatement was almost as shocking as his temporary dismissal.” How so? In the words of Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, executive vice president of FRC: “When you overrule an inspector general or independent investigator, that’s a big deal. That takes a lot of time and a lot of nerve. It’s very rare.”

Secretary Wilson has it exactly right: “The Air Force has a duty to treat people fairly and without discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, or sexual orientation and [Bohannon] met that duty by having a more senior officer sign the certificate.” In fact, every government installation has that duty. Col. Leland Bohannon tried not to create a scene by having a superior officer sign the certificate. But the master sergeant couldn’t tolerate an opposing viewpoint and wanted revenge. The Air Force initially obliged, and it shouldn’t have. The whole military should follow Secretary Wilson’s lead.

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