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Meet Oscar Rodriguez, Jr.  

Oscar Rodriguez, Jr. enlisted in the United States Air Force Reserve in 1980. During his career he initially trained as an Avionics Technician and was later promoted to Section Chief. He served as Section Chief for the majority of his career before retiring as Senior Master Sergeant in 2013. Rodriguez received many accolades and decorations during his time of service.

During his 33 years of service, Rodriguez sacrificed greatly for our nation – including losing his business as a result of being called to active duty from the Reserve. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) spoke of Mr. Rodriguez’s story from the Senate floor as an example of how our veterans pay a high price to serve our nation.

For many years, Rodriguez regularly performed a patriotic flag-folding speech at retirement ceremonies, and civic and patriotic events.

In 2013, Congressman John Garamendi (D-CA) sent Rodriguez a hand-written note thanking him for his service, and expressing how moved he was when he observed Oscar delivering his flag-folding speech at the California State Fair.

Rodriguez Assaulted and Dragged Out of Retirement Ceremony

Master Sergeant (MSgt) Charles “Chuck” Roberson is a USAF veteran who retired on April 3, 2016 at Travis Air Force Base. A month before his retirement, Roberson saw Rodriguez perform the flag-folding speech at a friend’s retirement ceremony. Moved by the speech, Roberson personally asked Rodriguez to give the same speech at his own retirement ceremony. Rodriguez readily agreed. Read a script of the speech.

When Roberson’s unit commander discovered that Rodriguez would be delivering the flag-folding speech, which mentions “God,” during the ceremony, he attempted to prevent Rodriguez from attending. After learning that he lacked authority to prevent Rodriguez from attending, the commander then told Roberson that Rodriguez could not give the speech. Rodriguez asked Roberson what he should do, and Roberson responded that it was his personal desire that Rodriguez give the flag-folding speech as planned. Watch Roberson tell his story.

Roberson and Rodriguez tried to clear the speech through higher authorities at Travis Air Force Base, even offering to place notices on the door informing guests that the word “God” would be mentioned. They never received a response from the authorities. As an Air Force veteran himself, Rodriguez stood firm on his commitment to Roberson.

But when Rodriguez stood up to perform the flag-folding speech on the day of the ceremony as requested by Roberson, uniformed Airmen approached him and warned, “You’re really going to do this?”

And when Rodriguez began speaking, multiple Airmen physically assaulted him, dragging him out of the ceremony. Travis Air Force Base officials then threw Rodriguez off the base.

Rodriguez says he is shocked and humiliated by what happened at the retirement ceremony.

“To even imagine that I would be removed while the American flag is being unfurled and open—the flag which represents freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press…it’s horrifying.”

Rodriguez filed a complaint with his Congressman, Jeff Denham (R-CA), who launched an inquiry into the incident.

As Rodriguez recalls the experience, he says it was “one of the most humiliating experiences” of his life.

“I have given more than three decades of service to the military and made many sacrifices for my country,” said Rodriguez. “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.”

First Liberty Legal Action

Because Rodriguez is a private citizen, he has every right to mention the word “God” under the First Amendment of the Constitution.

“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,’” says Mike Berry, Director of Military Affairs for First Liberty Institute. “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,” said Berry. “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.”

On June 20, 2016, First Liberty sent a demand letter to military leaders, asking the United States Air Force to admit their wrongdoing, apologize to Rodriguez, and hold the responsible parties accountable for their actions. Read the demand letter.

Two days later, the Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James ordered the Air Force Inspector General to review the Air Force’s actions against Mr. Rodriguez.

Multiple media outlets also reported that the Air Force acknowledged that religious scripts may be used in flag folding ceremonies. 

“Air Force personnel may use a flag folding ceremony script that is religious for retirement ceremonies,” the Air Force said in a statement. “Since retirement ceremonies are personal in nature, the script preference for a flag folding ceremony is at the discretion of the individual being honored and represents the member’s views, not those of the Air Force. The Air Force places the highest value of the rights of its personnel in matters of religion and facilitates the free exercise of religion by its members.”

In response, Mike Berry, Director of Military Affairs for First Liberty Institute, says, “We view the Pentagon’s action today as a positive first step towards not only acknowledging that religious scripts may be used at retirement ceremonies, but also ensuring these kinds of situations are not repeated.”  

In the demand letter, First Liberty attorneys asked the Air Force to send a written apology to Mr. Rodriguez and to hold all responsible parties accountable for the assault on Mr. Rodriguez by June 27. 

First Liberty’s Past Defense of Religious Expression on Government Property 

In 2011, government officials required Pastor Scott Rainey, a private citizen, to submit his prayer for approval before he could pray at a Memorial Day ceremony at a Department of Veterans Administration (VA) cemetery in Houston, Texas.

After reviewing Pastor Rainey’s prayer, a VA official informed him that, in order to pray, he would need to remove religious references from his prayer, including the words “God” and “Jesus.”

First Liberty Institute stepped in and filed a lawsuit against the VA, citing multiple violations of the First Amendment. After almost five months of litigation, a federal judge signed an order requiring the VA to cease censoring prayer, to permit references to God, to allow the use of the word “God” at national cemeteries, and to revoke national policies hostile to religion.

First Liberty attorneys assert that the Air Force’s actions against Rodriguez violate the First Amendment and federal law, just as the VA violated Pastor Rainey’s constitutional freedoms. In addition, they say the actions taken against Rodriguez are similar to the VA banning a flag recitation at national cemeteries because of its use of the word “God.” Read the federal judge’s order.

“While paragraph 18 of the order in the VA case allowing a flag recitation that includes the word ‘God’ is not binding on the Air Force, it should serve as a warning to the Air Force not to violate the First Amendment rights of Rodriguez,” said Berry.

Listen to a 90-second version of Oscar’s story below. New episodes of The First Liberty Briefing are released every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. To see each week’s new episodes, subscribe to First Liberty Briefing on iTunes and listen on Soundcloud.

 

 

PRESS RELEASE
For Immediate Release: June 23, 2016

Contact: Kassie Dulin, kdulin@firstliberty.org
Cell: 214-542-4334, Direct: 972-941-4575

PENTAGON LAUNCHES INVESTIGATION INTO VETERAN’S REMOVAL FROM MILITARY BASE OVER SPEECH REFERENCING GOD

Secretary of the Air Force calls for an investigation by the Air Force Inspector General 

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Two days after First Liberty sent a demand letter to the Air Force on behalf of their client Oscar Rodriguez, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James ordered the Air Force Inspector General to review the Air Force’s actions against Mr. Rodriguez.

During a retirement ceremony held in April at Travis Air Force base, multiple uniformed Airmen assaulted Oscar Rodriguez, a thirty-three year Air Force veteran, and forcibly dragged him away for giving a speech that included the word “God.” Read more about the case and watch a video of the incident

“We view the Pentagon’s action today as a positive first step towards not only acknowledging that religious scripts may be used at retirement ceremonies, but also ensuring these kinds of situations are not repeated,” Mike Berry, Director of Military Affairs for First Liberty Institute, says.

In a letter sent to the Air Force on June 20, First Liberty Institute attorneys asked the Air Force to acknowledge that religious scripts may be used in retirement ceremonies, to send a written apology to Mr. Rodriguez, and to hold all responsible parties accountable for the assault on Mr. Rodriguez.

On Wednesday, multiple media outlets reported that the Air Force acknowledged that religious scripts may be used in flag folding ceremonies.

“Air Force personnel may use a flag folding ceremony script that is religious for retirement ceremonies,” the Air Force said in a statement. “Since retirement ceremonies are personal in nature, the script preference for a flag folding ceremony is at the discretion of the individual being honored and represents the member’s views, not those of the Air Force. The Air Force places the highest value of the rights of its personnel in matters of religion and facilitates the free exercise of religion by its members.”

Read more about the case at FirstLiberty.org/Rodriguez

About First Liberty Institute

First Liberty Institute is the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.

To arrange an interview, contact Kassie Dulin at kdulin@firstliberty.org or 214-542-4334.

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Click here to download the 06/23/16 press release

Click here to download the 06/20/16 press release 

Air Force veteran Oscar Rodriguez assaulted over the word “God”

Oscar Rodriguez Removed from Air Force Retirement Ceremony 

Master Sergeant (MSgt) Charles “Chuck” Roberson’s Full Retirement Video

Video of Charles “Chuck” Roberson testifying he invited Rodriguez

Video of Oscar Rodriguez Performing Flag Folding Ceremony

Video of Senator Landrieu’s speech sharing how Oscar lost his business due to serving in the military 

Photos of Oscar Rodriguez