Air Force reverses decision to punish colonel for his religious beliefs

The Air Force has reversed its decision to punish a highly-decorated and respected colonel after he refused to publicly affirm the same-sex spouse of a retiring subordinate.

Col. Leland Bohannon was on the verge of being promoted to a one-star general when he was suspended from command in 2017. Orders were also handed down recommending he not be promoted.

The colonel was punished after he declined to sign a “certificate of spouse appreciation” for a retiring master sergeant’s same-sex spouse.

An Equal Opportunity investigator determined at the time that the colonel had discriminated against the airman – and went on to say that “even had the accommodation been granted, Col. Bohannon would nonetheless be guilty of unlawful discrimination.”

First Liberty Institute, one of the nation’s most prominent religious liberty law firms, argued that the colonel went out of his way to accommodate the airman by having a two-star general sign the document.

Col. Bohannon had flown combat missions in the Middle East and he is the recipient of the Bronze Star, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal and the Air Medal. His punishment brought strong condemnation from Republicans in Congress.

“Col. Bohannon has suffered severely on account of the EO investigator’s mishandling of his religious liberty rights,” eight U.S. senators wrote in a letter. “The Air Force owes it to him to see that justice is restored, along with his good name.”

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson announced Monday that the director of the Air Force Review Boards Agency ruled in favor of the colonel.

“The director concluded that Colonel Bohannon had the right to exercise his sincerely held religious beliefs and did not unlawfully discriminate when he declined to sign the certificate of appreciation for the same sex spouse of an Airman in his command,” Secretary Wilson wrote in a letter to Rep. Vicky Hartzler.

Secretary Wilson went on to say that Col. Bohannon did his duty to the airman by having a more senior officer sign the certificate.

Hiram Sasser, general counsel for First Liberty, said he was pleased with the Air Force’s decision.

“This is clear evidence that the Trump administration is helping to right the ship at the Pentagon,” Sasser said. “However, we must remember that at every level of the government there are bureaucrats who actively resist President Trump’s efforts to preserve and protect religious freedom.”