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Veteran Oscar Rodriguez
Veteran Oscar Rodriguez. Photo courtesy of First Liberty

Veteran sues Air Force over free speech investigation

Attorneys for veteran Oscar Rodriguez, forcibly dragged from a friend’s retirement ceremony over his planned speech, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Air Force on July 27 for refusing to turn over the results of its investigation into the incident. Freedom of Information Act requests made last year to the department have languished for more than 200 days—well beyond the 20-day response mandated by federal law.

Mike Berry, director of military affairs for First Liberty Institute, accuses the Air Force of trying to hide information. He said the department investigations into the March 2016 incident at Travis Air Force Base in Sacramento, Calif., are complete. But the Air Force has ignored repeated requests for the results, which could vindicate Rodriguez and address the religious liberty issues at the heart of the case.

Video of the altercation shows airmen forcibly removing Rodriquez from a retirement ceremony during which he had been invited to recite his “flag folding” speech. Air Force officials reportedly objected to the speech, which includes six mentions of God, and told Rodriguez he could not give it. When he attempted to speak during the ceremony, officials removed him from the base.

First Liberty sent a demand letter in June 2016 claiming multiple violations of Rodriguez’s constitutional rights. The department ordered two investigations—one into the alleged First Amendment violations and one into alleged violations of the Fourth and Fifth amendments.

— by Bonnie Pritchett

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