For combat pilot Leland Bohannon, it’s been a turbulent year. One promotion shy of his first general’s star, the Air Force colonel watched his 24-year career flash before his eyes last May when he was asked to sign a certificate of appreciation for a same-sex couple. When his religious accommodation wasn’t granted, Bohannon asked a higher-ranking officer to sign it instead. Now, months after wondering if he’d ever be able to return to the military he loved, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson gave him the answer he’d been waiting for: yes.For Bohannon, who’d been grounded, suspended, and virtually guaranteed that he’d never be promoted for his beliefs on marriage, the news of his reinstatement was almost as shocking as his temporary dismissal. As most service members understand all too well, religious hostility in the military didn’t disappear when Barack Obama did. President Trump has had to walk a long and determined road to weed out the bureaucrats still loyal to the intolerance of the last administration. And thankfully, he has leaders like Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson to help him do it.
Wilson had been clear before she was confirmed: “Air Force policy must continue to ensure that all Airmen are able to choose to practice their particular religion.” This week, she proved it — vindicating Bohannon and creating an important precedent for other branch leaders to follow. As our own Lt. General Jerry Boykin points out, that was no easy task. An Equal Opportunity investigator had already determined Bohannon was guilty of discrimination, even after his request for a religious accommodation.
“When you overrule an inspector general or independent investigator, that’s a big deal,” General Boykin insisted. “That takes a lot of time and a lot of nerve. It’s very rare.” Still, Wilson had plenty of motivation to try. Eight senators had called on the Air Force to stop punishing Bohannon’s beliefs, along with House Armed Services members like Reps. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) and Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.). In December, supporters of FRC and American Family Association piled on, giving Wilson 77,024 reasons to reconsider the attack on this airman’s faith. “We not only delivered 77,024 petitions,” General Boykin said, “we delivered a message: We will not back down from defending the religious liberty of those in the military.”
Message received. “The Air Force places a high value on the rights of its members to observe the tenets of their respective religions or to observe no religion at all,” Wilson explained in a letter to House and Senate leaders, absolving the colonel of wrongdoing. “…Colonel Bohannon had the right to exercise his sincerely held religious beliefs and did not unlawfully discriminate when he declined to sign the certificate of appreciation for the same-sex spouse of an Airman in his command,” the secretary went on. “The Air Force has a duty to treat people fairly and without discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, or sexual orientation and (Bohannon) met that duty by having a more senior officer sign the certificate,” she concluded.
For our friends at First Liberty Institute, who represented Bohannon, it was cause to celebrate – not just for this colonel, but for the thousands of men and women who are witnessing this president’s commitment to religious liberty. “This is clear evidence that the Trump administration is helping to right the ship at the Pentagon,” attorney Hiram Sasser told Fox News’s Todd Starnes. No one should be forced to check their faith at the base’s gates.
So the next time you wonder if signing a petition or calling your congressman makes a difference, think of Colonel Bohannon. You have the power to help shape the direction of this country — use it!
Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.