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Maine Air National Guardsman Vindicated After Punishment for Off-Duty Private Flag Display

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February 8, 2024

News Release
 For Immediate Release: 2.8.24
Contact: Peyton Drew, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 972-941-4453

 

Maine Air National Guardsman Vindicated After Punishment for Off-Duty Private Flag Display

Letter of Reprimand withdrawn after legality challenged by First Liberty Institute

 

Augusta, ME— First Liberty Institute announced that the Maine Air National Guard has withdrawn a Letter of Reprimand given to Matthew McCarthy, a member of the Guard, who was punished for flying the “Appeal to Heaven Flag” on his private property. Guardsman McCarthy now has the opportunity to promote to the rank of Captain, and the U.S. Department of Defense is no longer threatening to revoke his security clearance.

“The wokeness in the military unnecessarily caused over 2 years of significant anguish for Mr. McCarthy and his family and almost ended his military career and ability earn a living – all because he flew the Appeal to Heaven Flag,” said Danielle Runyan, Senior Counsel at First Liberty Institute. “It should frighten every American who believes in the cause of freedom that this situation went so far as to punish a servicemember for his religious expression in his private capacity. We are happy that Major General Farnham read our appeal, adhered to the First Amendment, and vindicated Mr. McCarthy.”

Mr. McCarthy has served in the Maine Air National Guard for 18 years. He began his career as an enlisted service member and because of his honorable service and exemplary military record, he received his commission in May of 2019. In 2021, as an expression of his sincerely held religious beliefs and in his civilian capacity, Matthew displayed the Appeal to Heaven Flag above the American Flag on his residential property in rural Maine. But on September 25, 2021, the trajectory of Mr. McCarthy’s career changed when his squadron commander, Lt Col John L. Cronin, contacted him while in an off-duty status regarding a flag display on his private, off-base property.

As a result, on October 3, 2021, Lt Col Cronin issued Mr. McCarthy a Letter of Reprimand. While there was no jurisdictional basis for issuing Mr. McCarthy this adverse administrative action for his off-duty religious speech and religious exercise as a private citizen, the Maine National Guard targeted Mr. McCarthy for exercising his rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

First Liberty submitted an appeal on behalf of McCarthy in December 2023, requesting the Adjutant General of Maine, Maj Gen Douglas Farnham, rescind his Letter of Reprimand.

The Appeal to Heaven Flag has a special place in America’s military history. The flag became a symbolism of prayer, especially for troops during the American Revolution as they sought spiritual strength while fighting for independence. The flag, with its prayer to God, became synonymous with the American struggle for liberty. Several of the earliest Revolutionary War battles and victories were fought under this moving banner. Some historians document the flag being carried by troops at Bunker Hill and flown from floating batteries at the Battle of Boston.

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About First Liberty Institute
First Liberty Institute is a non-profit public interest law firm and the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.
To arrange an interview, contact Peyton Drew at media@firstliberty.org or by calling 972-941-4453.

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