WASHINGTON — An Air Force senior master sergeant has filed a formal complaint after allegedly being relieved of his duties for admitting that he opposes a redefinition of marriage.
“We are hoping that the Air Force in particular, and all the military services, will honor the law that was passed by Congress last year that provides a right of conscience protection for our military personnel,” said Ron Cruise of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty.
He told EWTN News on Aug. 21 that “those serving to protect religious liberties” should have their own religious liberties secured as well.
Sgt. Phillip Monk, a member of the Air Force for 19 years and a member of the 37th Training Wing, claims that he was relieved of his duties at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, following a disagreement with his commanding officer over the morality of same-sex “marriage.”
Monk, who identifies himself as an evangelical Christian, claims that the issue arose during a discussion about a separate staff sergeant who expressed to trainees his religious-based opposition to homosexual relationships. Air Force policy bars the use of positions of authority to promote religious beliefs among subordinates.
While discussing the situation, Monk said, his commanding officer pressed him on his own religious beliefs until he admitted that he shares traditional views on marriage. He alleges that the officer — who has not been identified to the public — is an open lesbian.
Monk claims he was immediately relieved of his duties as first sergeant of the training squadron in the division, though he was not removed from the military itself. Monk was due for reassignment, and he has since been placed with the 59th Medical Wing at Lackland AFB.
“I was relieved of my position because I do not agree with my commander’s position on gay marriage,” he said to the Military Times on Aug. 16.
Monk also told the Military Times that the staff sergeant who was the subject of the dispute received an official notice of infraction and a letter of counseling.
Cruise said that those following religious- liberty issues in the armed services are “waiting to see if Sgt. Monk will receive his meritorious service medal that was already in the works.”
Prior to the dispute, Monk had been recommended by his commander for the medal, but the disagreement and relief from services could place that award in question.
Monk told the Military Times that not receiving the medal could damage his military career because it would “send a message to whomever is reviewing” his military records in the future. The sergeant has filed a formal letter of complaint with the Air Force to seek a solution to the issue.
Cruise agreed that Monk’s future career could be damaged by this incident, particularly by “what will be written on his efficiency report” by the commander “who supposedly relieved him of his duty.”
‘A Perfect Example’
Cases of military personnel being disciplined for expressing their religious belief are becoming more common, Cruise warned.
Monk’s situation “is a perfect example” of why Congress passed legislation that “specifically protects military personnel like Sgt. Monk for speaking and acting on their religious beliefs,” he said.
He pointed to a 2012 “rights of conscience” law passed by Congress, which requires the military to accommodate “conscience, moral principles or religious beliefs of the member and, so far as practicable, may not use such beliefs as the basis for any adverse personnel action,” such as denial of promotion, discrimination or denial of assignment.
In addition, both the House and Senate versions of a 2014 defense authorization bill offer expanded conscience protections.
The Obama administration has voiced opposition to the House version, which allows free expression of religious beliefs unless it creates “actual harm” within a unit. The administration has offered no comment on the Senate version, which restricts religious speech and action in cases of broader adverse effects on troops.