First Liberty Institute, the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans, filed a lawsuit against the Air Force Thursday for withholding information regarding a retired veteran who was assaulted for mentioning God in a speech.
According to a press release made available to The Gospel Herald, First Liberty filed a FOIA request in December 2016 for information about the Air Force's investigation into the assault of Oscar Rodriguez, Jr., a decorated Air Force veteran.
The lawsuit claims that in April of 2016, several airmen physically dragged Rodriguez out of an Air Force base for mentioning God during a flag folding ceremony speech.
"It was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life," Mr. Rodriguez said in a press release on Monday. "I have given more than three decades of service to the military and made many sacrifices for my country. To have the Air Force assault me and drag me out of a retirement ceremony simply because my speech included the word 'God' is something I never expected from our military."
The Air Force conducted two investigations into the situation when First Liberty claimed that the incident violated the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights of Mr. Rodriguez.
The USAF released the results of the investigation concerning the First Amendment claim and said they discovered no violation of rights. However, for seven months, they have withheld the results of the second investigation, Mike Berry, director of military affairs for First Liberty Institute, told The Gospel Herald.
Berry explained that federal law requires the government to make a determination within 20 days of a FOIA request, yet it's been over 200 days and First Liberty hasn't received anything but delays.
He said it's obvious the Air Force is "hiding something".
"I can only guess it's something that shows the Air Force acknowledges it's at fault, or the uniformed airmen are at fault," Berry told GH. "They were very quick to release the first investigation that said they didn't do anything wrong, but have yet to release the results of the second investigation. Common sense would tell me they're holding onto the other investigation because it doesn't say there's no violation."
First Liberty hopes that soon, the USAF will turn over the documents they've been withholding for nearly a year, hold the airmen responsible for the incident responsible, and apologize to Mr. Rodriguez and assure him it won't happen again.
The faith community should be concerned about this case, Berry said, because what happened to Mr. Rodriguez is a blatant violation of religious freedom.
"The Air Force physically assaulted and dragged away an honorably retired veteran of our military -- all because he was going to mention the word 'God'", he said. "I think people should be doubly alarmed because there's an expectation that the military is filled with honorable people who want to the do right thing. When people do the wrong, thing, there's a system in place to hold those people accountable. America has such a faith and trust in the military, because we believe it will do the right thing."
He added, "It's a travesty that men in uniform are responsible for this. They are supposed to be upholding and defending the Constitution - and they're the ones that violated it."