When Col. Leland Bohannon refused to sign a certificate of appreciation for same gender marriage last year, he never thought that his religious beliefs would cost him his reputation and title in the Air Force.
Bohannon was stripped of his position as the commander of Inspection Agency at Kirtland Air Force Base and was taken off the list of officers being considered for the role of brigadier general as a result of his actions. Now, months after the colonel appealed his case, the Review Boards Agency finally restored his career, and ruled that no one in the military should be punished for exercising their personal religious beliefs.
Refusal to Endorse Same-Gender Marriage
The incident occurred last year when an Air Force colonel with strong Christian beliefs refused to accept a commanding master sergeant’s same-gender marriage and declined to sign the certificate of appreciation.
This wasn’t the first time Leland Bohannon had refused to endorse same gender marriage and after receiving complaints from commanding officers about his behavior, the Air Force decided to take action by accusing him of gender discrimination and violating service regulation. As a result, Bohannon was denied promotion to brigadier general and stripped of his title as a commander of Kirkland Air Force Base Inspection Agency.
Last December, after word of Bohannon’s unfair treatment got out, several lawmakers including R-Colo and Representative Doug Lamborn, wrote to the Air Force Secretary, Heather Wilson, to support the Colonel’s religious beliefs in the case and condemn the Air Force’s decision to deny a deserving officer promotion because of his religious orientation.
Air Force Reverses Its Decision
Bohannon appealed the Air Force’s decision and explained in a letter than he had signed every document for the airman but the unofficial appreciation certificate that symbolized the commander’s personal endorsement of same-gender marriage. Since the certificate was in direct conflict with his religious beliefs, the Colonel respectfully declined to sign the certificate.
After a few months, Lamborn finally received a positive response from the Secretary in a letter which read that Bohannon’s appeal had been granted by the Review Boards Agency. The director of the agency announced that every commander in the Air Force, including Colonel Leland Bohannon, had the right to exercise their religious beliefs.
Furthermore, if any officer respectfully declines to sign an appreciation certificate for same-gender marriages, his decision will neither impact his reputation in the Air Force nor be used against him for any kind of unlawful discrimination.
In her letter, Heather Wilson reassured lawmakers that the Air Force takes pride in treating all of its brave soldiers and commanders equally, without discrimination against their color, ethnicity, or race. Despite having conflicting beliefs on marriage, Bohannon had respectfully declined the offer to sign the appreciating certificate and fulfilled his duty by passing along the signing responsibility to a more senior officer, Wilson wrote.
Colonel Fulfilled His Duty, Air Force Says
The Review Boards Agency’s decision was publicly announced by the religious liberties group called First Liberty Institute which represented the Colonel in the discrimination case. Other lawmakers who received the letter from Wilson also posted excerpts of it on their twitter accounts. Now that Bohannon’s appeal has been granted, Review Boards Agency will correct the colonel’s record and restore his title of commander.
First Liberty Institute said Bohannon had already asked for religious accommodation due to his strong beliefs on marriage but his request wasn’t taken seriously. So, instead of signing the certificate himself, he asked a two-star commander to do it for him. When master sergeant discovered that the certificate had not been signed by the Colonel personally, he filed a complaint, accusing him of discrimination and violation of duty.
Mikey Weinstein, the founder of an advocacy group called Military Religious Freedom Foundation, that fights for preserve servicemembers’ religion freedom, accused the Air Force of bigotry.
Other advocacy groups also began to speak out against the unfair decision saying that discrimination based on personal beliefs should have no place in professional environment. Bohannon’s case also received backing from powerful Republican senators including Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, all of whom wrote to Wilson, pressuring her to reverse the Air Force decision.