Air Force Colonel Michael Madrid Punished for Religious Expression
First Liberty Institute has sent a letter to the Air Force demanding the reversal of punitive actions taken against Col Michael Madrid for expressing his religious beliefs about sexuality.
In 2014, one of then-LtCol Madrid’s subordinates — who was in the middle of being court-martialed — accused Col Madrid of
“engaging in demeaning and derogatory behavior toward [the subordinate] based on [the subordinate’s] sexual orientation” thus “creat[ing] a hostile work environment.”
Besides the troubled circumstances of the initial complaint, it is also notable that it was a blanket complaint (and apparently a first complaint) covering the prior 15 months, not any specific incident.
As a result of the complaint, Col Madrid’s Group Commander at FE Warren AFB, Wyoming, Col Hans Ritschard, initiated a Commander Directed Investigation.
In March 2014, the two-week CDI determined the allegations were “unsubstantiated,” and Col Madrid’s commander agreed.
That should have been the end of the story.
More than a year later (June 2015), Col Madrid had been promoted to full Colonel and had moved to San Antonio to serve in Air Education and Training Command Headquarters. Somewhere in that time, MajGen John McCoy became an acting Vice Commander of AETC.
On 29 June 2016 — more than a year after moving to San Antonio and more than two years after the CDI was closed — MajGen McCoy issued Col Madrid a Letter of Admonishment for a statement he made during the CDI conducted at FE Warren. He reportedly also intended to establish a further punitive Unfavorable Information File (UIF) but never did so.
For an unknown reason, four months later (10 October 2016), MajGen Mark Brown — the new Vice Commander of AETC — chose to establish a UIF.
The entire situation is very strange — which may explain why First Liberty’s Mike Berry believes Col Madrid was targeted for his words — that is, his religious expression of his Christian beliefs on traditional marriage.
First, Gen McCoy’s Letter of Admonishment was “in regards [sic] to a false statement made to an investigating officer during” the CDI. A false statement is a potentially serious accusation, which might ordinarily warrant more serious repercussions than an LOA. But First Liberty points out Gen McCoy’s admonishment was very vague:
[MajGen McCoy] accused Col Madrid of “giving the impression that [he] had not made those comments.” Giving an impression is not the appropriate legal standard for making a false official statement.
Presumably, MajGen McCoy acknowledged he lacked the legal basis for a greater punishment — a Reprimand or Article 15 — that could have been challenged and overturned, so he opted for the LOA. Even so, First Liberty indicated that “giving an impression” — something that is not only an opinion, but also apparently not the opinion of the person who actually investigated the CDI — is an odd reason to initiate potentially career-ending action against an officer.
Second, how did MajGen McCoy even know about the CDI? By their very nature, CDIs are not supposed to be millstones around the necks of their subjects for the rest of their careers — particularly when the allegations are “unsubstantiated.” (In fact, it requires a very specific approval process — and a legal “need to know” — to even see a CDI.) And once he did know about it, for what reason was he motivated to review it? Col Madrid had already served at AETC HQ for more than a year, and two years had passed since the CDI had ended. Why now?
First Liberty has an idea:
Attorneys at First Liberty are concerned that the reason the case was dredged up once closed is because the Air Force is unduly focused on political correctness and targeting people with beliefs who don’t fit the progressive mold.
“We are concerned that Major General McCoy judged and punished Madrid – a decorated Air Force officer – because he became aware of Colonel Madrid’s traditional religious views,” Berry added. “If so, that not only harms the military, but it is illegal.”
The circumstances around Col Madrid over the past three years seem to defy explanation and tradition, if nothing else. The unusual nature of his treatment and the open questions could potentially undermine trust in the process — and, according to First Liberty, outright undermine Col Madrid’s constitutional right to due process.
Finally, it is worth noting that not everyone seems to have been on board with Col Madrid’s treatment. In his June 2016 LOA, MajGen McCoy reportedly said Col Madrid had “breached integrity” during the long-ago 2014 CDI.
But just a few days before issuing the LOA over his past performance, MajGen McCoy had signed Col Madrid’s annual performance report, covering his current performance over the past year. On that report, Col Madrid’s supervisor said he was a
leader driven by integrity
It seems the now-retired supervisor had a slightly different opinion on the matter, and he managed to quietly make it known. MajGen McCoy signed the report with a simple “concur.”
It will be interesting to see how others respond — including Air Force leadership — now that this is being widely reported.