Dear Colonel Raymond A. Kozak:
I am appalled by the recent forcible eviction and assault of Senior Master Sergeant Oscar Rodriguez (Ret.) as he recited a traditional flag-folding speech that mentioned God at the retirement ceremony of Master Sergeant Charles Roberson. Such action is both reprehensible and unlawful.
As Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek confirmed: “Air Force personnel may use a flag folding ceremony script that is religious for retirement ceremonies. Since retirement ceremonies are personal in nature, the script preference for a flag folding ceremony is at the discretion of the individual being honored and represents the member's views, not those of the Air Force."
Millions of Americans have long held the military in high esteem. However, this incident was shameful and a mark upon what has been a noble institution. As Mr. Rodriguez stated: “… 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. To even imagine that I would be removed while the American flag is being unfurled and open—the flag which represents freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press…it’s horrifying.”
The very same freedom that these two men spent decades defending was denied to them. I strongly urge you to formally apologize both to Mr. Rodriquez and Mr. Roberson for this violation of their constitutional right to free speech and religious expression and work to ensure that the religious liberty of the airmen and women under your leadership is fully protected.