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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 3, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 44
Colonel sues Air Force, claims First Amendment right to discriminate against same-sex spouses
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Colonel sues Air Force, claims First Amendment right to discriminate against same-sex spouses

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

An Air Force colonel filed a lawsuit on October 31, alleging that the Air Force violated his First Amendment right to freedom of religion by disciplining him when he refused to sign a document recognizing the same-sex spouse of an NCO under his command.

Col. Leland Bohannon was commander of the Air Force Inspection Agency at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico when a master sergeant due to retire asked him to sign a certificate of appreciation for his husband. Such certificates recognizing the spouses of retiring military personnel are regularly issued to opposite-sex spouses.

When Col. Bohannon refused to sign the certificate, the master sergeant filed an equal-opportunity complaint, charging that the colonel unlawfully discriminated against him due to his sexual orientation.

Air Force equal-opportunity investigators substantiated the complaint, and as a result, Air Force Inspector General Lt. Gen. Anthony Rock suspended Bohannon from his command, withheld a pending decoration, and submitted a letter recommending that Bohannon not be promoted to brigadier general.

Bohannon appealed the ruling, saying that he'd sought - but was denied - a religious accommodation that would allow him to be excused from signing the certificate.

On August 31, his appeal was denied by Brigadier General Paul W. Tibbets IV, deputy commander of the Air Force Global Strike Command and deputy commander of Air Forces Strategic-Air, US Strategic Command at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana.

Tibbets ruled that even if Bohannon had received the accommodation he requested, he would still be guilty of discriminating against the master sergeant on the basis of sexual orientation.

'Such a position renders religious accommodations meaningless,' Bohannon's attorneys wrote in their lawsuit. 'Religious accommodations exist to avoid placing service members in the religious and moral dilemma of having to violate their religious convictions in order to serve.'

Bohannon is represented by Mike Berry of First Liberty Institute, a Texas-based legal group that uses First Amendment claims to challenge civil rights legislation.

First Liberty's former senior counsel, Ken Klukowski, also worked for the Family Research Council, is a Breitbart columnist, and worked on Trump's transition team. Former First Liberty lawyer Jeff Mateer spoke at the infamous 'death to gays' National Religious Liberties Conference in 2015.

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