April 16, 2018
For over 20 years, Colonel Leland Bohannon has served his country honorably in the United States Air Force. He completed combat missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan and earned the Bronze Star, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, and the Air Medal. Because of his hard work, Bohannon is now eligible for promotion to Brigadier General.
In May 2017, one of Col. Bohannon’s fellow airman decided to retire. Because Col. Bohannon was his superior, the Air Force entrusted Bohannon with the usual awards and gifts that are presented to retiring service members. Many of those awards asked for Col. Bohannon’s signature to recognize his colleague’s service. Col. Bohannon was willing to sign all the awards except one—a certificate of spouse appreciation. Col. Bohannon’s colleague just so happened to identify as a homosexual. As a devout Christian, Col. Bohannon could not in good conscience sign a certificate recognizing a same-sex union that violates his deeply held religious beliefs.
Although the certificate was optional and unofficial, Col. Bohannon approached his chaplain and JAG attorney for advice. Bohannon’s chaplain recommended that he seek a religious exemption. During the process of seeking an exemption, a two-star general told Bohannon that he would sign the certificate in his place, to which Bohannon agreed. Even though the certificate was signed by a higher-ranking officer—a high honor, the retiring master sergeant was not satisfied. He subsequently filed a formal Equal Opportunity complaint, alleging that Bohannon had discriminated against him because of his sexual orientation. After conducting an investigation, the Air Force confirmed the allegations were true and found Bohannon guilty of discrimination, halting his chances of a well-deserved promotion and jeopardizing his entire military career.
Together with our friends at First Liberty, Col. Bohannon appealed the decision to the Secretary of the Air Force. On December 6, 2017, FRC and the American Family Association delivered over 77,000 petitions to the Pentagon, calling on Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson to reverse the decision and clear Col. Bohannon of any wrongdoing.
On April 2, 2018, nearly a year after the ordeal first started, Secretary Wilson “concluded that 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.”
This is a huge victory for religious liberty, especially for members of the military. Although President Trump has made great strides in protecting the right of every servicemember to freely express themselves, there remains much political correctness and social experimentation from the Obama years that needs to be weeded out. We applaud Secretary Wilson for standing up for the rights of every member of the Air Force.
James Madison said that “conscience is the most sacred of all property.” The right to live according to your conscience is the reason countless men and women have signed up to serve in the military. We should continue to fight for them.