An Air Force veteran forcibly removed from a retirement ceremony has filed a lawsuit claiming he was kicked out for mentioning God.
Oscar Rodriguez tried to give an older version of the traditional flag-folding ceremony speech at Travis Air Force Base in California in April 2016.
The retired Senior Master Sergeant began to loudly recite the script even after security told him not to, and was quickly bundled out of the room.
The ceremony was honoring Master Sergeant Chuck Roberson of the 749th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, who was retiring after 27 years.
Sergeant Rodriguez called the incident ‘humiliating’ and on Monday sued the Air Force demanding an apology and admission of wrongdoing.
‘I was removed from the speech because my script mentioned God. Air Force officials did not want me to utter those words,’ he told Fox News.
The 33-year veteran claimed the Air Force never directly forbade him from making the speech and his First Amendment rights were violated.
The Air Force disagreed, saying he was kicked out for attempting to participate even though the squadron commander hosting the event disapproved.
‘When it became clear that Mr Rodriguez intended to act inconsistent with the commander’s restrictions he was removed by several squadron NCOs,’ it said.
Retired Senior Master Sergeant Oscar Rodriguez was forcibly removed from a retirement ceremony in 2016 and has filed a lawsuit claiming he was kicked out for mentioning God
As the American flag (pictured) is unfurled next to Rodriguez on stage he begins his statement: ‘Our flag is known as the stars and stripes’
‘The inquiry found no evidence that the NCOs were motivated to impair Mr. Rodriguez’s constitutional rights of freedom of speech or religion.’
At the time it said Sergeant Rodriguez ignored ‘numerous requests’ to respect the ceremony as it was planned.
Footage of him being removed showed NCOs talking to him before he started the speech, appearing to be warning him not to.
The Air Force changed the wording of the traditional ‘Flag Folding Ceremony Air Force Script’ in 2006 to remove religious references.
Sergeant Rodriguez claimed he made the religious version of the speech at the request of Sergeant Robertson, who confirmed as such.
‘I couldn’t believe what happened. I still can’t believe it. All I want now is for the Air Force to apologize for ruining this once in a lifetime moment but they refuse to do so,’ he said.
The ceremony was held for Chuck Roberson (left), John Huffington (right) said he is a friend of the man whose retirement ceremony and that the incident was disturbing
Sergeant Robertson said he wanted his retirement ceremony to reflect the ‘American values’ he defended in his career – ‘respect for God, family, and country,’.
Rodriguez’s lawyer, Hiram Sasser from First Liberty Institute, argued the Air Force didn’t want him reciting a speech that mentioned God.
‘[The U.S. Air Force] did not have the authority to ban him from the base and they did not have the authority to ban him from participating in the ceremony,’ he said.
First Liberty described itself as ‘dedicated exclusively to protecting religious liberty for all Americans’.
The lawsuit claimed internal Air Force emails showed an unnamed officer suggested charging the NCOs who removed Sergeant Rodriguez with assault.
The event was being held at Travis Air Force Base (pictured) for Master Sergeant Chuck Roberson of the 749th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron
Stephen Sila, who identified himself as the officiating officer at the ceremony, posted a long explainer on the Facebook page of army blog John Q Public.
He claimed Rodriguez was invited to speak at the ceremony and planned to read a statement honoring the flag and that his appearance was cleared through the proper avenues.
But he said non-squadron commander had an issue with Rodriguez attending, apparently stemming from a personal issue at a previous squadron between the squadron commander and Mr Rodriguez.
‘Why do you think people are leaving (the Air Force) in droves?’ he wrote.
‘Because the guys in the trenches are subjected to nonstop stupidity from commanders who don’t deserve the rank, respect, or support of the people they’re in charge of.’