Airman Files Complaint Against Military

August 22, 2013


This week, First Liberty Institute filed a formal complaint with the military on behalf of our client, Senior Master Sergeant Phillip Monk, a 19-year veteran of the Air Force who was punished for his faith.

The complaint letter, addressed to Monk’s commander, Major Elisa Valenzuela, was announced Tuesday at a press conference attended by Monk and First Liberty Institute Attorney Michael Berry.

Issues arose when Monk was asked to advise Valenzuela on a disciplinary matter involving an Air Force instructor who was accused of making objectionable comments about gay marriage. After a thorough investigation, Monk determined the instructor meant no harm by his comments, and suggested that his commander could use the incident as a way to teach about tolerance and diversity.

The commander told Monk, a devout evangelical Christian, that they weren’t on the same page, and that if he didn’t get on the same page, she would find another place for him to work.

Later, Valenzuela ordered Monk to answer the question of whether people who object to gay marriage are discriminating. Monk responded that he could not answer in the way she wanted, fearing an honest response would put him in legal trouble.

At that point, Monk was relieved of his duties. In addition, he was informed that he was “no longer allowed to be physically present” in the building or facilities in which he previously served.

“Unfortunately, SMSgt Monk was not free to confidently practice his particular religion, and his religious beliefs were not accommodated,” Berry wrote in the letter. “This is because of your refusal to respect his beliefs, which may differ from yours. The end result is a degradation of the 326th TRS’s morale, good order, and discipline. Airmen within the unit now have cause to question your impartiality and objectivity. Moreover, because SMSgt Monk’s religious beliefs are protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution, your conduct constitutes unlawful religious discrimination,” reads the letter. 

First Liberty Institute is requesting an in-person meeting with Monk and Valenzuela to resolve the issue amicably. 

There is a disturbing pattern of religious hostility developing throughout all branches of our military, and First Liberty Institute promises to stand strong and fight for our brave service men and women. We have a long track record of success when it comes to defending our nation’s service members.

About First Liberty Institute
First Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit

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