The Air Force is backing a retired airman's claim he had a right to speak about God during the flag-folding portion of another airman's retirement ceremony, even though the speech appears to violate an Air Force Instruction adopted 11 years ago.
Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Oscar Rodriguez wasforcibly removed from an April 3 ceremony at Travis Air Force Base, California, as he began making a flag-folding speech that referenced God several times.
Though the Air Forceadopted a specific flag-folding script in 2005, in part to strike religious references from such speeches, Air Force Headquarters now appears to be backtracking.
"Air Force personnel may use a flag folding ceremony script that is religious for retirement ceremonies," the service said in a statement. "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."
The Air Force statement appears to contradict an Air Force Instruction stating thatonly the official script may be read during any flag-folding ceremony conducted by Air Force personnel.
Air Force officials have not yet responded to Military.com's request to explain what appears to be a contradiction between the statement in response to the Travis incident and the AFI.
Rodriguez, who is being represented by the First Liberty Institute, is threatening to sue the Air Force unless he is given a written apology, a guarantee it will not happen again, and the airmen who evicted him from the ceremony are punished.
Rodriguez was asked to deliver what has become his signature flag-folding speech by Master Sgt. Charles Roberson, who was retiring. He asked Rodriguez to go ahead with the speech even after his commander told him it was not to be delivered.
TheAir Force announced in 2005 an official script for flag-folding ceremonies at official events and made it clear that no other script was authorized, regardless of the venue.
In addition to removing religious references in the ceremony, the Air Force also wanted to stop speakers from attributing meanings to the folds that had no basis in history or fact.
"[T]here is no specific meaning assigned to the folds of the flag" and there are no Air Force ceremonies requiring a reading during a flag folding, the instruction states.
"However, when a flag folding ceremony is desired and conducted by Air Force personnel at any location, on or off an installation, this script is the only one that may be used," the AFI states.