Oscar Rodriguez, Jr. | Cases | First Liberty

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.

Meet Chuck Roberson

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 at his retirement ceremony as planned. Watch Roberson tell his story.

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 forcibly removed him from the ceremony.

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.”

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

“I spent my career in the Air Force defending this country from its enemies,” said Oscar Rodriguez. “I never thought any Air Force official would be afraid that someone would use the word ‘God’ on base and I am shocked that they would assault me for trying!”

According to Chuck Roberson, “This retirement ceremony was supposed to be the culmination of my career in the Air Force. I wanted the ceremony to reflect the American values I spent my career defending – respect for God, family, and country.

Roberson continued, “I couldn’t believe what happened. I still can’t believe it. I want these Air Force officials to apologize for ruining this once in a lifetime moment.”

First Liberty Legal Action

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.

First Liberty was forced to file a lawsuit when officials refused to apologize to Rodriguez for the assault, to Roberson for ruining the only retirement ceremony he would ever have, and to make sure other members of the armed forces know their religious liberty is protected as well.

In response to the Air Force’s persistent inaction, Hiram Sasser, General Counsel for First Liberty Institute, says, “No one should be assaulted for saying the word ‘God’ on an Air Force base. Certainly, our United States Airmen are strong enough to be exposed to the word ‘God’ at a retirement ceremony.”

PRESS RELEASE
For Immediate Release: April 2, 2018

Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org
Direct:972-941-4453

First Liberty Files Lawsuit Against U.S. Air Force Officials for Assault at Retirement Ceremony

Suit alleges multiple civil rights violations when decorated veteran was assaulted over use of the word “God”


Washington, DC—First Liberty Institute and attorneys with Kirkland and Ellis filed a lawsuit this evening with the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of Oscar Rodriguez, Jr. and Charles “Chuck” Roberson alleging that Air Force officials violated the religious liberty of both Rodriguez and Roberson when uniformed Airmen abruptly interrupted a flag-folding ceremony at Roberson’s retirement and assaulted Rodriguez before he could use the word “God” in a flag folding speech.

“No one should be assaulted for saying the word ‘God’ on an Air Force base,” said Hiram Sasser, General Counsel for First Liberty Institute. “Certainly, our United States Airmen are strong enough to be exposed to the word ‘God’ at a retirement ceremony.”

During Roberson’s retirement ceremony held in April 2016 at Travis Air Force base, at which Rodriguez—himself a retired Airman—was Roberson’s invited guest, multiple, uniformed Air Force officials assaulted Rodriguez and forcibly removed Rodriguez from the ceremony for starting a speech that would include the word “God.” (Read Oscar’s entire speech by clicking here.)

“I spent my career in the Air Force defending this country from its enemies,” said Oscar Rodriguez. “I never thought any Air Force official would be afraid that someone would use the word ‘God’ on base and I am shocked that they would assault me for trying!”

After the incident, Air Force officials clarified that scripts containing religious language may be used during flag-folding ceremonies. However, First Liberty was forced to file a lawsuit when officials refused to apologize to Rodriguez for the assault, to Roberson for ruining the only retirement ceremony he would ever have, and to make sure other members of the armed forces know their religious liberty is protected as well.

“This retirement ceremony was supposed to be the culmination of my career in the Air Force,” said Chuck Roberson. “I couldn’t believe what happened. I still can’t believe it. I want these Air Force officials to apologize for ruining this once in a lifetime moment.”

To read the complaint, click here.

To download this press release, please click here.

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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 Lacey McNiel at media@firstliberty.org or by calling 972-941-4453.


Press Releases

First Liberty Press Release – 06/23/16

First Liberty Press Release – 06/20/16


Oscar Rodriguez & First Liberty Attorney Hiram Sasser on FOX: America’s Newsroom

First Liberty Asks US Air Force to Apologize to Decorated Airmen

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

Dear Coach Kennedy,

I would like to say thank you. Your dedication to your faith and your commitment to the positive education of our youth is truly admirable. I am deeply grateful for your military service and for taking a courageous stance in protecting religious liberty rights for teachers and administrators.

If our First Amendment protects a player’s right to kneel in protest, it certainly protects your right to kneel in prayer.

I was shocked to learn that Bremerton High School suspended you after denying your request to continue your wholesome practice of giving thanks after football games.

The Bremerton School District’s actions violate the law and send the wrong message to coaches, young people, our communities, and our nation — a message of hostility to religious freedom and intolerance toward personal religious expression.

Please know that you are not alone in this difficult time — I support you and First Liberty as you continue to fight for religious freedom! Our schools need more coaches like you, our country needs more citizens like you, and our world needs more people like you.