VICTORY! Air Force Restores Career of Decorated Airman

April 6, 2018

First Liberty adds another key victory for religious freedom in our military, restoring the constitutional rights of decorated U.S. Airman, Col. Bohannon.

This week, First Liberty Institute achieved a resounding victory, adding momentum in the fight for religious freedom in our military. The Secretary of the Air Force announced that it reversed its unfavorable decision against decorated Air Force Colonel Leland Bohannon, clearing his name and fully restoring his service record.

In less than six months, First Liberty’s legal action – as well as correspondence from Members of Congress – prompted the U.S. Air Force to recognize Col. Bohannon’s right to express his sincerely held religious beliefs.

Hiram Sasser, General Counsel for First Liberty Institute, commented on this important win:

“We are very pleased that Secretary Wilson protected the religious liberty of Col. Bohannon. This is clear evidence that the Trump administration is helping to right the ship at the Pentagon. However, we must remember that at every level of the government there are bureaucrats who actively resist President Trump’s efforts to preserve and protect religious freedom. We must do whatever we can to support the administration in this fight.”

With this most recent announcement, the Air Force is not only restoring the career of a highly decorated officer, it is also affirming that the Air Force family and, indeed, all United States service members have a right to religious freedom.


Late last year, Col. Bohannon suffered a flagrant violation of his religious liberty.

Col. Bohannon was asked to sign an optional spouse appreciation certificate for a retiring Airman. However, doing so would violate his religious convictions regarding same sex marriage. Doing so, he believed, would force him to publicly endorse a relationship and violate his religious beliefs. So, he asked a two-star general—a much higher-ranking officer—to sign the optional certificate as a way to show appreciation to the Airman without violating Col. Bohannon’s religious conscience.

That should have ended the whole ordeal, right?

But upon learning that Col. Bohannon did not personally sign the spouse certificate due to his sincerely held religious beliefs, the retiring Airman filed a discrimination complaint.

The blowback from the complaint nearly ruined Col. Bohannon’s accomplished military career. Everything Col. Bohannon sacrificed – all his years of exceptional service to our country – were on the verge of being destroyed.

That’s when First Liberty flew into action.

We filed an immediate appeal to defend Col. Bohannon, and remind Air Force officials that both federal law and regulations in the Department of Defense protect the right of military service members to freely exercise their religious beliefs.

Because of First Liberty’s legal action, the Secretary of the Air Force stated in a recent letter that Col. Bohannon had the “right to exercise his sincerely held religious beliefs and did not discriminate” by seeking a religious accommodation.


And while this is a positive victory, the fight is not yet over. There are still battles happening on multiple fronts.

Although there’s plenty of work ahead, First Liberty attorneys are confident that victories are well within reach. Victories like the one in Col. Bohannon’s case are all the more important during this critical time for religious freedom in our nation’s military. It’s a time when we need to continue winning cases and setting precedents that will affirm religious liberty for all of America’s service members.

To Col. Bohannon and all of the brave service men and women who gave – and continue to give – everything for our country, we say:

You fought for us, First Liberty now fights for you.

News and Commentary is brought to you by First Liberty’s team of writers and legal experts.

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