by Jorge Gomez • 4 min read
Jace Yarbrough is a patriot. He has faithfully served our country for the past 12 years. Since 2020, he’s been a reservist in the U.S. Space Force, a separate and distinct branch of the armed forces organized under the Department of the Air Force.
His military career in the Air Force Reserve, however, is on the verge of ruin. The Air Force is punishing him for something he said in his civilian, off-duty capacity at a private retirement ceremony. When military reservists are not “called up” on military orders, they are not on duty and not subject to military authority. Ignoring this fact, the Air Force sent him a “Letter of Admonishment” that will tarnish his record and continue to adversely impact his career.
First Liberty is going to court to defend Jace. We filed a federal lawsuit this week making the case that the Air Force can’t punish Jace for his private speech and private religious exercise while acting as a private citizen at a private venue.
Why is this dedicated veteran being targeted and singled out?
He was invited a couple years ago to participate in the private retirement ceremony of a fellow service member aboard the Battleship Missouri Memorial, a private museum in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Jace happily agreed and gave his remarks in his civilian capacity in uniform to a small group of like-minded friends and family. But some present at the ceremony complained about Jace’s speech.
Motivated by his religious beliefs, Jace quoted prominent Christian Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn, widely known for his powerful essay titled, “Live Not by Lies.” Jace’s speech warned about dishonesty and a growing cancel culture in our country, including in the military. His remarks advocated truth and encouraged integrity, an Air Force core value.
Here’s what is most ironic: Solzhenitsyn was thrown into a gulag for saying we must live by truth and not by lies. Now, in America, it appears a service member can be punished for quoting him.
We can’t emphasize this enough: Jace spoke in his capacity as a friend and private citizen. He also traveled to and attended the retirement ceremony at his own expense. Yes, he was wearing his military uniform while giving his speech, but as our attorneys explain in the lawsuit, that’s not enough for the Air Force to control what he says or come after him like this. Military regulations allow civilians to wear military uniforms for occasions such as retirement ceremonies.
Senior Counsel Danielle Runyan said it well: “In his purely civilian capacity, Jace had permission to speak freely and exercise his U.S. Constitutional and federally protected rights as an American citizen. The Air Force’s punishment of Jace is a perfect example of the very cancel culture he warned about in his speech.”
That punishment is arbitrary and capricious. Not to mention, illegal. We’re not going to stand idly by and watch Jace have his rights stripped away.
Ending someone’s military career simply because a few people say they were “offended” by their words is wrong and amounts to nothing more than a “heckler’s veto.” Our service members deserve better. They sacrifice so much and swear an oath to protect our freedoms, which include free speech and religious liberty. They shouldn’t have those same rights taken away.
Help Us Save Jace’s Career.
It’s going to be a tough battle. We’re about to take on military officials in federal court. That’s going to require a huge amount of resources. We will need your continued support if we’re going to win this case.
The good news? There’s hope. We’ve been here before. And thanks to you, we’ve won big.
You helped us fight for the Navy SEALs through the courts and together, we won for these elite warriors each step of the way. Now, they—and thousands of service members—are no longer being punished for holding to their religious convictions on the vaccine mandate.
We’re not done fighting for religious freedom in the military. There’s a toxic, anti-religion cancel culture running rampant in America’s armed forces. And we must once again stand together against it to ensure religious service members are treated fairly.
Jace is counting on you. Don’t let him fight alone. Let him know you’re fighting with him.