The Air Force is revising the rules governing flag folding ceremonies to specifically allow religious language during retirement ceremonies following a controversy at Travis Air Force Base in California.
Retired Senior Master Sgt. Oscar Rodriguez was thrown out of a friend's retirement ceremony in April while attempting — at the friend's request — to deliver a flag-folding speech mentioning God. After the religious freedom organization First Liberty Institute last week threatened to sue the service over his physical removal, the Air Force issued a statement that said "Air Force personnel may use a flag folding ceremony script that is religious for retirement ceremonies" due to their private, personal nature.
In a June 23 release, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation said the Air Force is wrong, and that its statement contradicts the Air Force Instruction governing flag folding ceremonies. That AFI says that if a script is to be read during a flag folding ceremony conducted by Air Force personnel, either on- or off-base, the official secular script is the only one that can be used, MRFF said.
"The astonishing and embarrassing disparity between the Air Force's official statement from late yesterday and the actual controlling Air Force regulation could not be more blatantly apparent!" the MRFF release said.
The MRFF, headed by Mikey Weinstein, demanded the Air Force retract the statement and instead reaffirm the AFI applies to all Air Force flag-folding ceremonies. MRFF is considering filing a lawsuit if the Air Force doesn't backtrack on its statement.
In an email Monday to Air Force Times, Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Brooke Brzozowske said the AFI should have been, and will be, updated to clarify that religious-based scripts can be read during flag foldings at retirement ceremonies.
Brzozowske said the Air Force is also waiting until an inspector general investigation into the incident, ordered by Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, is finished before releasing more specific information on it.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter at Defense News. He previously reported for Military.com, covering the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare. Before that, he covered U.S. Air Force leadership, personnel and operations for Air Force Times.