Reprimand of Air Force colonel sparks protest

by Diana Chandler, posted Monday, April 03, 2017 (20 days ago)

Michael Madrid
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SAN ANTONIO (BP) -- First Liberty Institute is seeking justice for U.S. Air Force Col. Michael Madrid, a flight surgeon the institute said was reprimanded in 2016 for his Christian religious beliefs about marriage and sexuality.

The U.S. Air Force originally cleared Madrid in 2014 of charges that he made unsubstantiated derogatory comments against homosexuality to an openly gay airman prior to the airman's court martial for unrelated criminal offenses. But when Madrid was placed under the command of Maj. Gen. John E. McCoy two years after the case was closed, McCoy accused Madrid of having lied during the investigation and disciplined him without any new evidence, First Liberty, a religious freedom law firm, said.

First Liberty is demanding that the Air Force rescind McCoy's official "letter of admonishment" from Madrid's permanent record or face further legal action. The letter denies Madrid's due process, First Liberty said, and discriminates against the devout Christian because he believes marriage is a sacred union between one man and one woman.

"Colonel Madrid submitted to an extensive military investigation and the Air Force cleared him," Mike Berry, First Liberty senior counsel and director of military affairs, said in a March 29 news release. "Major General McCoy has no right to ignore the rule of law and arbitrarily decide, more than two years later and without any new evidence, that he can punish Col. Madrid."

Weeks before McCoy issued the letter, Madrid had been promoted from lieutenant colonel to colonel, but the letter virtually ensures that Madrid will not be promoted to the next rank of brigadier general, Berry said. Rather, the discipline could lead to Madrid's demotion, causing him to lose tens of thousands of dollars in active and retired pay, the attorney said.

The Air Force has acknowledged receipt of First Liberty's request but has not responded. About 2,500 people have signed a letter at LibertyInstitute.com in support of Madrid, Berry told Baptist Press today (April 3).

"First Liberty's next step depends entirely [on] how the Air Force responds," Berry said. "We are keeping all available options on the table."

The exact derogatory comments Madrid was accused of making have not been revealed, as the Air Force has redacted the information from the case file, First Liberty chief communications officer Kassie Dulin told BP.

"We don't know all of the details because the Air Force redacted the investigator's legal analysis and the conclusion that ultimately cleared Col. Madrid," Dulin said March 29. "The false accusations are not something we want to repeat. Col. Madrid categorically denies making those statements and finds the statements offensive."

Madrid, a member of the Christian nondenominational Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, has served in the Air Force for 26 years. He is a four-time recipient of the Meritorious Service Medal that recognizes "singularly distinctive accomplishments."

"I feel like the full power of the Air Force is coming down on me because of my faith," Madrid said in the First Liberty press release. "Now, after more than a quarter-century of service to this nation, I feel like I constantly have to look over my shoulder. It's incredibly intimidating."

Berry said cases such as Madrid's are becoming more common in military life.

"At First Liberty Institute, we've seen multiple cases in which military officials have refused to tolerate service members' traditional religious beliefs," Berry said. "Colonel Madrid doesn't hide the fact that he is a devout Christian. We are concerned that Major General McCoy judged and punished Madrid -- a decorated Air Force officer –- because he became aware of Colonel Madrid's traditional religious views. If so, that not only harms the military, but it is illegal."

The airman who made the accusations against Madrid, whom First Liberty did not name, was court-martialed after being found guilty of multiple criminal offenses, First Liberty said, including illegally bringing a loaded weapon onto the Air Force base, prescribing narcotics illegally and performing duties while under the influence of narcotics.

Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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