A U.S. Air Force colonel and devout Christian suspended and denied promotion after refusing to affirm same-sex marriage has won a legal appeal to reverse the disciplinary actions against him.
Col. Leland Bohannon was restored April 3 to his military position and good standing, the Air Force Review Boards Agency announced Monday. Before Bohannon was disciplined in August 2017 for refusing to sign a certificate of spouse appreciation for a retiring officer in a same-sex marriage, Bohannon was due a promotion to brigadier general.
“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,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson wrote in an April 2 letter announcing the ruling. “The Air Force will ensure Col. Bohannon’s records are corrected in accordance with the final agency decision.”
Religious liberty advocates First Liberty Institute, Bohannon’s legal counsel in his appeal, applauded the decision.
“We are very pleased that Secretary Wilson protected the religious liberty of Col. Bohannon,” First Liberty General Counsel Hiram Sasser said in a press release today.
“Forcing Col. Bohannon to sign a spouse certificate when his religious beliefs prohibit him from doing so violates federal law and DOD [Department of Defense] regulations,” First Liberty said in its Oct. 5, 2017 appeal on Bohannon’s behalf. “Refusing to grant Col. Bohannon’s request for religious accommodation violates DOD and Air Force regulations. Worse, the adverse actions Col. Bohannon has suffered as a result of free exercise violate the Constitution, federal law and established DOD policy.”
Instead of affirming same-sex marriage, Bohannon had arranged instead for the certificate, which was an optional and unofficial document, to be signed by a superior officer. The Air Force review board cited the provision in ruling in Bohannon’s favor.
“The Air Force has a duty to treat people fairly and without discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin or sexual orientation,” Wilson wrote, “and met that duty by having a more senior officer sign the certificate.”
The Air Force “places a high value on the rights of its members to observe the tenets of their respective religions or to observe no religion at all,” Wilson wrote.
When Bohannon refused to sign the certificate, the retiring homosexual officer objected and filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which ruled in the retiring officer’s favor.
In November 2017, several Congress members signed letters to Wilson supporting Bohannon’s appeal, including Southern Baptist senators Roy Blunt of Missouri, Ted Cruz of Texas, James Lankford of Oklahoma and Roger Wicker of Mississippi. Missouri representative and Evangelical Christian Vicky Hartzler also signed a letter of support.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)