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AF: Religious intolerance claim unsubstantiated

Oct. 11, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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The Air Force has found unsubstantiated the claim of a senior master sergeant who said he was reassigned after making known his religious objections to same-sex marriage.

Senior Master Sgt. Phillip Monk, nowassigned to the 59th Medical Wing, Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, said he was relieved July 26 of his duties as first sergeant of the 326th Training Squadron and forced to take leave because he disagreed with his commanding officer’s position on gay marriage.

The investigation, initiated Aug. 15 by Col. Mark Camerer, 37th Training Wing commander at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, found the claim unsubstantiated. The investigation also concluded Monk made false official statements, but did not violate Articles 107 or 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

“The weight of the evidence shows that religion was never discussed between the two,” Camerer said in an Air Education and Training Command release.

“In the end, this is a case about command authority, good order and discipline, and civil rights — not religious freedoms,” he said.

Monk was not removed from his position, but rather moved, as scheduled, to another Lackland unit, an assignment he was notified of in April, the release says.

In August, Military Times reported that Monk, an evangelical Christian, acknowledged that he was due for a reassignment, but the dispute with the commander led to his abrupt removal from a leadership position. It also left open to question whether Monk would receive a Meritorious Service Medal for which his commander had recommended him in late June.

Monk’s award was approved earlier this month and is being routed for signature, said Collen McGee, chief of public affairs for the 37th Training Wing.

According to the Air Force, the incident in question occurred when Monk disagreed with the corrective action his commander planned to take against a military training instructor who made discriminatory remarks against homosexuals during a teaching session with basic trainees on July 20. The commander — in consultation with the base legal adviser — said the statements crossed the line, were discriminatory in nature, and required administrative action.

But according to Monk, the disagreement led to a discussion in which the commander, a major who Monk says is openly lesbian, pressed him into saying he objected morally to gay marriage. Monk said it was a contentious discussion, with the commander pressing him to agree that opposition to gay marriage was an act of discrimination. Monk said he told her: “I cannot answer your question because of my convictions.”

The investigating officer, an Air Force colonel, wrote in his report, “Based on his training as a first sergeant, Senior Master Sgt. Monk should have known that discriminatory remarks on the basis of sexual orientation are against Air Force Policy. He should have also known, while Air Force members do have the right to speech and religion, that right does not mean airmen can say whatever they want, whenever they want.”

Liberty Institute, a nonprofit legal group that concentrates on religious freedom issues, released a statement on behalf of Monk Oct. 8 saying the organization disagrees with the Air Force’s findings and conclusion and finds the Air Force’s version of the story to be untrue

Monk had been receiving legal advice from the organization from the time the story was first reported.

“The Air Force has not and cannot explain why Senior Master Sgt. Monk was reassigned six weeks prior to his scheduled rotation date,” said Liberty Institute attorney Mike Berry in the release.

The organization claims the Air Force manipulated Monk’s scheduled rotation date.

An Air Force timeline of events shows that Monk requested his reassignment in January. The 737th Training Group commander found his replacement by May 1. In June, his orders were made for an official date of Sept. 30. On July 20, the incident with his commander occurred. He was then reassigned on Aug. 14.

McGee said Sept. 30 was established as the “report no later than date” in the assignment system, but expectations for Monk’s actual permanent change of assignment date varied from mid-July to early September.

“With local assignment changes, it is customary for the assignment change to be based on the replacement's arrival,” McGee said. “The replacement in this case reported for duty on Monday, Aug. 12.”

“The documents don’t lie,” Berry said. “The truth is that Monk was removed and reassigned because he would not agree with his commander’s views on same-sex marriage. She had created such a hostile work environment that Monk had no choice but to assent to his own removal,” he said.

The Air Force said it will not take any disciplinary actions against either Monk or his commander as a result of the investigation.

Rick Maze contributed to this report.

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