Last week, First First Liberty Institute was honored to participate in our client Senior Master Sergeant Phillip Monk’s retirement from the United States Air Force.
Members of our legal team, including President & CEO Kelly Shackelford, General Counsel Jeff Mateer, Chief Operating Officer David Holmes, Director of Litigation Hiram Sasser, Senior Counsel and Director of Military Affairs Mike Berry, as well as Lt. Gen. (Ret.) William G. “Jerry” Boykin were on hand to celebrate with the 20-year U.S. Air Force veteran, who served as a First Sergeant at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, and whose entire career was threatened by discrimination based solely on his personal religious beliefs.
PERSECUTION NEARLY DESTROYS AN HONORABLE CAREER
SMSgt Monk engaged First First Liberty Institute in the summer of 2013, after he had suffered religious discrimination by his then-commanding officer. In accordance with his role as the Squadron First Sergeant, SMSgt Monk advised his commander on a disciplinary matter involving an Air Force instructor who was accused of making objectionable comments about same-sex marriage. SMSgt Monk conducted an investigation and, after finding that the instructor meant no harm by his comments, SMSgt Monk suggested they use the incident as a way to teach about tolerance and diversity.
But SMSgt Monk, a devout evangelical Christian, was told that he wasn’t on the same page as his commander—and that “if he didn’t get on the same page, they would find another place for him to work.” This commander then asked SMSgt Monk whether he agreed that objecting to same-sex marriage violates military regulations and is discrimination. Not wanting to upset his commander, SMSgt Monk tried to avoid answering. But when SMSgt Monk could not give the answer his commander wanted, she relieved him of his duties and told him he was “no longer allowed to be physically present” in the building in which his unit was based.
First First Liberty Institute stepped in and filed a formal complaint with the military on SMSgt Monk’s behalf. During a meeting following the formal complaint filing, the Air Force investigator abruptly read SMSgt Monk his Miranda rights, accusing him of the military crime of making false official statements. In other words, the Air Force accused SMSgt Monk—a combat veteran with 19 years of service at that time—of lying and fabricating his story. But thanks to First Liberty Institute’s rapid response in defense of SMSgt Monk, the Air Force cleared SMSgt Monk of any crimes, avoiding potential court-martial or disciplinary action. In February 2014, the Air Force presented SMSgt Monk with a prestigious award for his performance and conduct, and in May 2014, the Air Force approved SMSgt Monk’s retirement request.
CELEBRATING RETIREMENT AND RELIGIOUS LIBERTY VICTORY
To recognize SMSgt Monk’s 20 years of service and retirement from the U.S. Air Force, a celebration was held at SMSgt Monk’s home church, Village Parkway Baptist, Church in San Antonio, Texas, on Friday, January 23, 2015.
Following the ceremony, First First Liberty Institute was honored to host a special retirement dinner with many of SMSgt Monk’s family and friends in attendance. And on Sunday, January 25, 2015, SMSgt Monk was again recognized at the Village Parkway Baptist Church morning service—which included special remarks from Aaron and Melissa Klein (business owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa who declined making a cake for a same-sex wedding and are now fighting legal action brought against them by the State of Oregon), First Liberty Institute’s Mike Berry, Texas State Senator Donna Campbell, Village Parkway Baptist Church Senior Pastor Dr. Steve Branson, and Lt. Gen. Boykin.
THANK YOU FOR MAKING RELIGIOUS FREEDOM VICTORIES POSSIBLE!
Without the support of friends like you—people who believe in the cause of religious freedom and defending people of faith who are undergoing persecution for their faith—SMSgt Monk may not have been able to celebrate 20 years serving in the U.S. Air Force and retire in good standing with the U.S. Air Force.
You make it possible for First First Liberty Institute to maintain a more than 90% win rate with a team of full-time constitutional attorneys, that work with some of the top litigators in the country who volunteer their time to help advance the mission of defending our nation’s First freedom.
For SMSgt Monk, for all members of the military, and for every American who cherishes their First Freedom, we thank you. And we thank you for your continued financial support and prayers as you stand with First First Liberty Institute to help protect the constitutional rights of people of faith!
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About First Liberty Institute
First First Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military 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 www.FirstLiberty.org.