A veteran forcibly removed from a military retirement ceremony two years ago filed a lawsuit Monday against the Air Force claiming that the military violated his First Amendment rights.
Retired Senior Master Sgt. Oscar Rodriguez claimed in the lawsuit that service members at Travis Air Force Base in California physically removed him, while in the middle of a flag-folding speech, for mentioning the word “God,” Fox News reported.
A fellow master sergeant with the 749th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron invited Rodriguez to speak at his April 3, 2016, retirement ceremony when uniformed airmen reportedly dragged him out of the room mid-speech.
“This is about my constitutional right,” Rodriguez said, speaking about his lawsuit.
“I was removed from the speech because my script mentioned God. Air force officials did not want me to utter those words,” he continued. “There was no direct communication between the Air Force and myself to forbid me from making this speech.”
The Air Force said Monday that it would not comment on pending litigation, but officials from the military branch said in a statement that the airmen removed him because his participation in the ceremony was “disapproved by the hosting squadron commander.”
“Rodriguez ignored numerous requests to respect the Air Force prescribed ceremony and unfortunately was forcibly removed,” an official said shortly after the incident occurred.
One Air Force official said that flag-folding speeches with a religious component to them can be used in retirement ceremonies.
“Since retirement ceremonies are personal in nature, the script preference for a flag folding ceremony is at the discretion of the individual being honored and represents the member’s views, not those of the Air Force,” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said.
Master Sgt. Chuck Roberson, who invited Rodriguez to speak at his ceremony, said that he wanted his colleague to speak at the ceremony — which was to celebrate Roberson’s 27 years in the Air Force.
“I wanted the ceremony to reflect the American values I spent my career defending – respect for God, family, and country,” Roberson said. “I couldn’t believe what happened. I still can’t believe it. All I want now is for the Air Force to apologize for ruining this once in a lifetime moment but they refuse to do so.”