For over twenty years, Colonel Leland Bohannon has dedicated his life to service over self in the United States Air Force. With over 3,300 flight hours in various airframes, including B-2A and B-52H bombers and combat missions to Iraq and Afghanistan, Col Bohannon is a decorated and experienced combat pilot. He has earned the Bronze Star (earned in Afghanistan), the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, and the Air Medal. He is eligible for a merit-based promotion to Brigadier General, a one-star general officer. He is also a husband, father of four, and a devout Christian.
In the Air Force, Col Bohannon is known for more than accomplishments. He lives with integrity, serves others before himself, and strives for excellence in all things. Col Bohannon’s superiors, peers, and subordinates—including Brigadier General Kristin E. Goodwin, Commandant of Cadets, United States Air Force Academy—have praised his character and leadership abilities.
As a devout Christian, Col Bohannon adheres to the basic Christian belief that marriage is between one man and one woman. When one of Col Bohannon’s subordinates, who happens to be homosexual, announced his retirement, the Air Force delivered to Col Bohannon the standard awards, gifts, and honors that are often presented to retiring service members. Col Bohannon readily signed each document for the retiring Airman. But when the Air Force presented a certificate of spouse appreciation—an optional, unofficial certificate, similar to a bouquet of flowers —to Col Bohannon, his sincerely held religious beliefs prevented him from signing it because doing so would signify his personal endorsement of the same-sex marriage.
Attempting to balance his legal right to live according to his religious beliefs with a request to sign an optional, unofficial spouse appreciation certificate, Col Bohannon sought guidance from his chaplain and his military “JAG” attorney. Because the Air Force offers no formal guidance to commanders who are faced with this dilemma, the chaplain recommended Col Bohannon request a religious accommodation that would excuse him from having to personally sign a document in a manner that violated his religious beliefs. Col Bohannon’s request for a religious accommodation was not granted, but while it was pending, a two-star general devised a solution with Col Bohannon whereby the general would sign—a far more prestigious signature—the certificate in his place.
Despite Col Bohannon’s handling of the situation with honor and dignity, the retiring Airman filed a formal equal opportunity complaint against Col Bohannon, alleging that he unlawfully discriminated against him. The Air Force conducted an investigation into the allegations and found them to be substantiated, meaning the Air Force believes Col Bohannon is guilty of unlawful discrimination because he did not personally sign an optional, unofficial certificate, even though he successfully obtained a far superior signature on the certificate. The Air Force investigation acknowledged that Col Bohannon requested a religious accommodation, but stated that even if it had been granted, it would not change the outcome or Col Bohannon’s “guilt.”
First Liberty is fighting for Col Bohannon’s religious freedom by appealing on his behalf to the Secretary of the Air Force. First Liberty is also requesting that the Air Force issue formal guidance to commanders that could prevent situations like this in the future.