The U.S. Air Force has reversed a decision to punish a highly decorated colonel following his refusal to publicly affirm the same-sex marriage of a subordinate. Col. Leland Bohannon was due for a promotion when he was suddenly suspended following the incident. The colonel was disciplined when he declined to sign a “certificate of spouse appreciation” for a retiring master sergeant’s spouse.
An equal opportunity investigator had initially determined that the colonel had unfairly discriminated against the man and his same-sex spouse. But religious freedom law firm First Liberty Institute vehemently disagreed with this ruling.
“EO investigator concluded that Bohannon violated AFI 36-2706, the Air Force Equal Opportunity Program, and unlawfully discriminated against the master sergeant based on sexual orientation,” First Liberty wrote in its summary of the case at the time, as reported by the Air Force Times. “The EO investigator acknowledged that Col. Bohannon sought a religious accommodation, but the investigator stated that even had the accommodation been granted, Col. Bohannon would nonetheless be guilty of unlawful discrimination.”
Now, in an extraordinary turn of events, Colonel Bohannon has been cleared of any wrongdoing, and any disciplinary actions taken against him have been reversed.
“The Director concluded that Colonel Bohannon had the right to exercise his sincerely held religious beliefs and did not unlawfully discriminate when he declined to sign the certificate of appreciation for the same-sex spouse of an Airman in his command,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson wrote in an April 2 letter announcing the ruling. “The Air Force will ensure Col. Bohannon’s records are corrected in accordance with the final agency decision.”
“We are very pleased that Secretary Wilson protected the religious liberty of Col. Bohannon,” added First Liberty General Counsel Hiram Sasser in a press release, as reported by Baptist Press. “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,” Sasser added.
While Colonel Bohannon, compelled by his Christian convictions, refused to sign the paperwork, he did offer to have one of his superiors sign it instead. Despite this gesture of goodwill, the disciplinary action continued.
“The Air Force has a duty to treat people fairly and without discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, or sexual orientation,” Wilson wrote, “and met that duty by having a more senior officer sign the certificate.”
She concluded that the Air Force “places a high value on the rights of its members to observe the tenets of their respective religions or to observe no religion at all.”
Following the original ruling against Bohannon back in November 2017, several Congress members signed letters to Wilson supporting Bohannon’s appeal. These individuals included Southern Baptist senators Roy Blunt of Missouri, Ted Cruz of Texas, James Lankford of Oklahoma, and Roger Wicker of Mississippi.
(H/T: Baptist Press)