FAIRFIELD, Calif. (Christian Examiner) – An Air Force veteran was dragged out of a military retirement ceremony because he wanted to mention "God" in a speech, according to a legal organization dedicated to protecting religious liberty.
The group, First Liberty Institute, sent a letter June 20 to Air Force officials, asking for an explanation and demanding an apology to the veteran, Oscar Rodriguez Jr.
Rodriquez has delivered more than 100 patriotic "flag-folding" speeches at civic and military events, and was asked by Air Force Master Sergeant Charles Roberson to speak at his retirement ceremony on April 3 at Travis Air Force Base in California. Roberson had heard the speech previously and had been moved by it, according to First Liberty.
A video from the retirement ceremony posted online shows two Airmen preparing to fold a flag, as Rodriguez rises from his seat and stands to their right. Immediately, he is approached by someone in uniform, and as he begins to speak, he is ushered out of the back of the room as he shouts the beginning of his speech. All three men may have been working on orders from Lieutenant Colonel Michael A. Sovitsky, according to First Liberty.
First Liberty said it will "pursue all available legal options" if the Air Force does not resolve the case. Rodriquez has more than 30 years of military service.
"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,'" First Liberty Institute's Mike Berry said. "Mr. Rodriguez has a constitutional right to free speech and religious expression, even on a military base. The military broke the law and abused its power. We expect the Air Force to hold those responsible accountable, and allow Mr. Rodriguez to continue honoring the flag and other veterans who have sacrificed for our country."
Rodriguez called it "one of the most humiliating experiences of my life."
"I have given more than three decades of service to the military and made many sacrifices for my country," he said. "To have the Air Force assault me and drag me out of a retirement ceremony simply because my speech included the word 'God' is something I never expected from our military."
A five-page letter from First Liberty to Air Force officials demands a written admission of wrongdoing and a written apology to Rodriguez.