Retired Airman Thrown Out of Ceremony Because of Religion
In a drama that can only be described as tragic and embarrassing, US Air Force NCOs physically tossed retired Senior Master Sergeant Oscar Rodriguez out of a Travis AFB retirement ceremony (and the building in which it was being conducted) — even after the retiree, Chuck Roberson, had invited him to narrate his retirement flag ceremony. The video, made public first at John Q. Public and since repeated at FoxNews, is at once disturbing and enraging.
Retired LtCol Tony Carr does a decent job of hammering the shameful and inappropriate mistreatment of the retired SMSgt. What was interesting, though, was the Air Force’s official response. As quoted at FoxNews [emphasis added]:
The Air Force Reserve said in the statement it “respects and defends the right to free speech and religious expression.”
Religious expression? Why did the Air Force bring up religion, which didn’t appear to be at issue?
It turns out, it was not only an issue, it was the issue. As Tony Carr cited [emphasis added]:
The [Air Force’s] mention of religious expression [is] likely a reference to part of Rodriguez’s usual script — a part that touches on the traditional choice by many to associate the flag with deeper spiritual or religious meaning…Officials obviously contemplate that his use of the word “God” might somehow categorize the entire rendition as “religious expression,” thereby imposing limits and generating protections…
In other words, three NCOs shoved a retired Airman out the door in the apparent mistaken belief that potential assault would be more professional and less offensive than allowing him to say the word “God,” as he’d been invited to do. That’s quite a statement on the stigma attached to religion in the military.
An entire video of what Rodriguez was going to say is available here, apparently from Rodriguez’s own retirement ceremony. His well-received monologue is emotional, forceful, and recited entirely from memory:
Carr accurately notes that an AFI was changed to prescribe the “only” authorized script during flag-folding “by Air Force personnel” — a change the Air Force publicly admitted it made only to end the then-“controversial” practice of ascribing religious meaning to some of the “folds” of the flag (controversial at the VA in 2011 and called a “screed” by Michael “Mikey” Weinstein last year).
This “scandal” is made all the more onerous because a retirement ceremony isn’t even a required Air Force function (see AFI 36-3203). It is performed at the pleasure of the retiring Airman, to honor him and his family. In this case, this honoree had specifically requested Rodriguez provide the flag narration.
Chuck Roberson wanted Oscar Rodriguez at his retirement. He wanted him to participate. That should have been the end of the issue. The Air Force doesn’t have the authority to tell airmen how to think about or talk about the American flag during a folding ceremony.
But even if it did, the ceremony was over. This was an informal tribute designed by the honoree and his wingmen. Commanders too squeamish to bear witness should have excused themselves and taken no notice.
But even if they felt compelled to stay, they had no power to force a civilian invitee to sit down and shut up. He’s not subject to their authority.
But even if he were, his resistance to that authority could never legitimize the use of violence as a response to non-compliance.
There is almost certainly more to the story, including likely a history of bad blood between Rodriguez and the commander who ordered his ejection.
Regardless, it is unconscionable that uniformed members of the US Air Force physically manhandled a retired Senior NCO out of a retirement ceremony to which he had been invited because he stood up and talked.
It is beyond the pale that the reason they did so was he was going to refer to God.