A veteran is threatening legal action against the U.S. Air Force if it does not apologize for forcibly removing him from a retirement ceremony at Travis Air Force Base, where he was invited to give a speech referencing “God.”
Oscar Rodriguez, a 33-year Air Force veteran, was solicited to speak at the April flag-folding ceremony in honor of retiring Master Sgt. Charles Roberson, who heard Mr. Rodriguez deliver the same address one month prior and wanted it performed at his own retirement.
But when Mr. Rodriguez stood to deliver his three-minute oration at the Sacramento base, a man in uniform followed him to the front of the room and obstructed his view of the audience.
Pretending to ignore the interference, Mr. Rodriguez refused to cede the stage and began his speech anyway. After two more men in fatigues rushed the stage, he was pushed and dragged out of the assembly room against his will, for referencing God.
“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.”
Mr. Rodriguez retained the First Liberty Institute to represent him in potential legal action against the Air Force.
First Liberty sent a letter to the Air Force and to the commander at Travis Air Force Base on Monday, demanding an apology by June 27 and threatening to “pursue all available legal options” on Mr. Rodriguez’s behalf.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Mike Berry, director of military affairs at First Liberty. “Where people in uniform come and grab somebody and physically treat them like this, and forcibly drag them away against his will because of what he’s going to say, and because of what he was going to say is the word ‘God’? That’s insane. I can’t fathom that that would be happening in our country on a military base.”
With a booming voice and commanding countenance, Mr. Rodriguez is a popular orator who has delivered more than 100 flag-folding addresses in a vigorously patriotic but meticulously scrutinized performance.
Mr. Roberson said he saw that passion on display at a retirement ceremony one month prior to his own, prompting him to extend an invitation to Mr. Rodriguez.
“He can perform that speech like no other person that I’ve ever seen,” Mr. Roberson said in a video released by First Liberty. “He has so much passion for the flag and the country, and that is what I wanted to be a part of my own ceremony.”
“That the Air Force would do this to myself — because it’s my retirement — I was very embarrassed and humiliated in front of all of my family and friends,” he said.
The standard flag-folding oration was stripped of any religious significance by the Pentagon in 2005, but many service members still prefer the former version and request it at their retirement ceremonies. The traditional version closes with, “God bless our flag. God bless our troops. God bless America.”