Air Force Vet Assaulted For God & Country Flag Folding Ceremony: Today, we are talking with Mike Berry, a Deputy General Counsel for First Liberty Institute, to give us an update on a Liberty case that he is working on. This case is dealing with a man named Oscar Rodriguez, Jr. who is a decorated Air Force veteran. A retiring service member asked Rodriguez to deliver the flag-folding speech at his retirement ceremony. But when he began the speech, uniformed Airmen assaulted him, physically dragged him out of the ceremony, and kicked him off the military base because the speech included the word “God.” Tune in now to hear the update on this case.
Air Date:Â 08/22/2017
Guests: Mike Berry, David Barton, Rick Green, and Tim Barton
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Transcription note: Â As a courtesy for our listeners’ enjoyment, we are providing a transcription of this podcast. Â However, as this is transcribed from a live talk show, words and sentence structure were not altered to fit grammatical, written norms in order to preserve the integrity of the actual dialogue between the speakers. Â Additionally, names may be misspelled or we might use an asterisk to indicate a missing word because of the difficulty in understanding the speaker at times. Â We apologize in advance.
Faith And The Culture
Welcome to the intersection of faith and the culture, this is WallBuilders Live! Where we”re talking about today”s hottest topics on policy, faith, and the culture, all of it from a Biblical, historical, and constitutional perspective.
We’re doing that here with David Barton and Tim Barton. David Barton is America’s premier historian and the founder of WallBuilders. Tim Barton, national speaker, pastor, and president of WallBuilders. And my name is Rick Green, I’m a former Texas state rep.
You can find out more about all of us at our website WallBuildersLive.com. Also, you can get some archives of previous programs and go to WallBuilders.com for a wealth of information there as well. We appreciate you joining us today.
David, Tim, later in the program we will have Mike Barry with us from First Liberty Institute. This is one of those religious liberty violations that people may not remember from a couple of years ago, but when they hear about what happened to this officer they’re going to be very bothered.
Going To Court For Saying, “God And Country”
A lot of these violations can get settled. A lot of times we’ll see violations where somebody will come in a school district or come at a kid or whatever and then you hear about it getting settled.
But this is one where the Air Force has dug its heels in. They’re not willing to settle and they’re actually stonewalling this, in the sense that things that should be available information through Pertinent Information Act, they’re just refusing to give the information on why they targeted this guy, why they pulled him out, and why they’ve physically assaulted him for doing something that was God and country. It was a pretty simple thing. Oscar Rodriguez an Air Force guy was asked to be part of a flag folding ceremony-
For retirement, for his fellow officer-
In retirement. It’s a private ceremony, it is not a public official Air Force ceremony. It’s a retirement ceremony for the guy, and it is on an Air Force Base. So Oscar is going to do the flag folding ceremony, asked to do that. That’s a traditional part of so many military functions.
And and he was pretty popular. Many people liked having him in because it was so powerful when he did it.
That”s right. He was asked to do this in all sorts of places. As it turns out, I think it was the base commander, who actually had a bunch of active duty guys that when he started to do this they physically hauled him out of there and didn”t allow him to do it.
So he starts into it, he gets into God and country, which is what the flag folding ceremony is about. And at that point, they actually have video of him being forcibly seized and dragged out for talking about God and country in a private ceremony, a private retirement ceremony. It was not an official function and if it had been an official function it would be still just as bad.
But even they should have had the sense to know that it’s a private ceremony, you can say what you want in a private ceremony. But it turned into a big brouhaha. And so now it’s going to the next level, the Air Force has been stonewalling on this and refusing to back down, so now it”s going into court.
So we’ll have Mike Berry with the First Liberty later because they’re the ones taking this to court and updating us. But this is really pretty unbelievable that you get manhandled for talking about God and country in America.
Let’s take a quick break. When we come back, Tim, let”s talk about Mike Barry, and what they’re doing at First Liberty, and a little bit more about this case. We had Mike with us at Patriot Academy a couple of weeks ago part of training these young people and he had a great presentation on religious liberty. Stay with us folks, we’ll be right back on WallBuilders Live.
Moment From American History
This is David Barton with another moment from America’s history. Revisionists today often assert that our Founding Fathers were atheists, or agnostic, or deists. This charge is not new. In fact, Patrick Henry was even called a deist in his lifetime.
Clearly, no one could question his patriotism. But Henry was hurt that they would question his Christianity. Against the charges he was a deist, Patrick Henry thundered,
“Deism with me is but another name for bias and depravity. I hear it is said by the deists that I am one of their number. And indeed, there are some good people think I am no Christian. This thought gives me much more pain than being called a traitor. Being a Christian is a character which I prize far above all this world has or can boast.”
Patrick Henry was quick to refute the charge of deism and to declare his open belief as a Christian. For more information on God’s hand in American history, contact WallBuilders at 1-800-8- REBUILD.
What Is Done At A Flag Folding Ceremony
Thanks for staying with us here on WallBuilders Live. We”re talking about a case out of the air force, First Liberty Institute is after them for literally assaulting a guy at a retirement ceremony.
Tim, Mike Barry is the right guy for this. He is still a Marine Corps reservist. Just a great guy fighting these religious liberty battles especially in the military. He came down and helped us at Patriot Academy a couple of weeks ago too.
Yeah, it was a pleasure having down the Patriot Academy. He addressed the topic of religious liberty and he does a fantastic job. We’ve known Mike for a lot of years, he was a great addition to First Liberty just a few years ago. He is the guy that heads up their Military Religious Liberty division. They do lots of other areas whether it be government, or school, or business, or military. Well, he’s the guy where that anytime they get a Religious Liberty attack in the military he’s the guy that leads that up.
And unfortunately, that’s happening a lot.
It really is. In fact, he was supposed to be with us all week at Patriot Academy but they had some incidents come up with his full-time job in his real life where he had to stay and help try to resolve some of these issues. It’s something where we are seeing more and more of these attacks.
But as a military guy himself, he has fought and really believes in these principles of the Constitution, of religious liberty, and of the First Amendment. So he’s a great guy to have there defending it. He’s the guy for First Liberty leading this case against the Air Force in the situation with Officer Rodriguez.
You have Mike that’s an officer and Hiram Sasser who is also First Liberty, he’s another military officer, he’s an army guy. They’ve got all these military guys and they’re really aggressive, which is great. But what really brought this about with Oscar Rodriguez was he was following what is recommended in the American Legion rules on how to do flag folding.
These are recommendations from American Legion. American Legion is a group chartered in 1919 by Congress and it is really the nation’s largest wartime service organization. So this is made up of veterans who are themselves, military guys, that’s what the American Legion is.
On their Website, they say, “Here’s flag folding. They do this at 129 different military cemeteries across the world, flag folding. Here’s the way the American Legion says it should go.
And by the way, because of the ratio of the U.S. flag when you fold a flag you take it long ways, you split down the middle, fold it in half, and you fold it one more time in half. So you get this long skinny part of the flag, you see a fourth of it. And then you start down where the stripes are and you start folding it in triangles going back toward the stars, and you will always end up with 13 folds because of the ratio of the flag.
There are going to be 13 folds no matter how big the flag is, how small it is, you can fold it 13 times. So what the American Legion does is says, “Here’s something you say.” Here’s what they have on their Web site, they said, “The flag folding ceremony represents the same religious principles on which our great country was originally founded.”
That in itself has got to be a red flag for all the atheist knot heads out there who think that you shouldn’t even be able to talk about God or the fact that the country was founded on those religious principles. But that’s what the American Legion says right up top.
Then they say symbols for the folds of the flag. So as Oscar goes through and fold the flag, and by the way, it’s not just Oscar there’s guys all over the world, veterans who do this flag folding ceremony, the retirement ceremonies, or funerals or whatever it is.
It says, “The first fold of our flag is a symbol of life. The second fold is a symbol of our belief in eternal life. The third fold is made in honor and remembrance of the veteran departing our ranks and who gave a portion of his or her life for the defense of our country to attain peace throughout the world. The fourth fold represents our weaker nature. As American citizens trusting in God, it is to him we turn in times of peace as well as in times of war for his divine guidance.”
We have the fifth fold, and the six fold, and 7th, and you keep saying something each time. The eighth fold is a tribute to the one who entered into the valley of the shadow of death that we might see the light of day. It goes on, the ninth fold, and the tenth fold, and the eleventh fold, “In the eyes of Hebrews citizens represents a lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon and glorifies in their eyes the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
The twelfth fold, “In the eyes of a Christian citizen represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies in their eyes God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” And then when you finish it the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost, reminding us of our national motto, “In God We Trust.”
Now, that’s a flag folding ceremony. That’s what comes from the nation’s largest veterans organization. This is what’s done across the country. And this was done at a private ceremony by a military guy who wanted this done at his retirement ceremony. Oscar did it and the commander had him physically picked up, hauled off, and out of that meeting for doing what the American Legion says is the right thing to do with flag folding ceremonies.
This Couldn”t Possibly Be Coercion
Rodriguez was not making this up out of thin air. He was following what the American Legion recommends that you do.
Again, this is standard stuff for veterans organizations like the American Legion. This is what’s on their Website now. There’s an alternative one you can do. They also say that if someone wants a flag folding ceremony and they don’t want God mentioned there’s a ceremony do for that as well. So you can have your choice of whether you want God mentioned or not mentioned in this.
And the choice when you say, “you have your choice” is the guy that’s retiring.
The guy that’s retiring or the family if it”s someone being buried that family can say, “Hey, we want to mention God or we don’t want to mention God.” You make that choice and so it is a voluntary choice. This is not coercive in any manner. It’s a voluntary ceremony. Even the funeral is voluntary. Â If you do this at Arlington Cemetery, you can say, “I want the God version or the no-God version.”
And I can imagine, look, if the guy retiring didn’t want this and Rodriguez is forcing his way up front and taking over the ceremony, ok, that makes sense that you’d have the guy removed. That’s not what happened here. He was asked by the guy that’s retiring, “Please do this, this would be special to me as I leave the military and I’ve given all these years of service.” And yet this base commander to physically-
He plants them there. They know that he’s going to do this and he plants them there in a private ceremony to haul him out of a private ceremony where he’s been asked to do this. How hostile do you have to be to religious liberties to do that kind of thing? I mean, it’s unbelievable.
I’m so glad Mike Berry is on this thing and First Liberty. Looking forward to getting a report from him. He’s going to be with us when we come back from the break. Stay with us folks, you’re listening to WallBuilders Live.
Moment From American History
This is Tim Barton from WallBuilders with another moment from American history. In the early seventeen hundreds, the Reverend John Wise preached that all men were created equal, that taxation without representation was tyranny, and that God’s preferred form of government was the consent of the governed.
All of which is language recognizable in the Declaration of Independence. Why? Because in 1772 the Sons of Liberty led by Founders Sam Adams and John Hancock reprinted and distributed the Reverend Wise’s sermons.
Four years later, much of the Declaration reflected the language of those sermons by John Wise. Â In 1926 on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, President Calvin Coolidge affirmed, “The thoughts in the Declaration can very largely be traced back to what John Wise was saying.”
Few today know that the Declaration was so strongly influenced by the Rev. John Wise. For more information on this and other stories go to WallBuilders.com.
A Winning Record For Defending Religious Freedom
Welcome back, thanks for staying with us here on WallBuilders Live. Mike Berry is with us. He is Deputy General counsel for First Liberty Institute. They do incredible work, we”ll give their Website out today and encourage you to go there.
He’s also a Marine and was an attorney in the Marine and the JAG, he’s a Texas A&M grad. I”m a UT grad but we’ve kind of figured out we’re on the same team after all. So Mike Berry, thanks for coming on, bro.
Thanks for having me on. Great to be with you.
Hey, thanks for all the great work you guys do at First Liberty. Love Kelly and y”alls whole team and just really appreciate how much you’re on the front lines and appreciate your win record. You guys, it”s just phenomenal. What are you? Like 90 percent of the cases you take you win and a lot of times you don”t even have to go to court because the other side realizes they’re wrong once y”all get the information to them.
Well, that’s the hope is that eventually, word gets out that First Liberty Institute is on the other side of the V. That you don’t want to mess with us because we definitely have a winning record when it comes to defending religious liberty in this country.
It Was All Caught On Tape
And you’ve gotten more and more specific to- of course, y”all had a lot of the big cross cases and other cases as well. But now you’ve really got in a lot of these military affairs cases.
You’re director of Military Affairs there for First Liberty and y’all now have a suit with Air Force. Tell us what’s going on with that, that one is brand new.
Yes. It’s actually an offshoot of an existing case where we represent a retired airman by the name of Oscar Rodriguez. Oscar served in the air force for 33 years and then retired. And he’s known throughout the community for giving a very patriotic and moving flag folding speech.
He was invited to do that for a friend’s retirement ceremony. But when people in the Air Force still on active duty, specifically a commanding officer, found out that Oscar speech includes mentioning the word God in it they basically took steps to have him removed, in fact, they forcibly removed him.
I remember. Â This video went viral, right? They actually had video of these guys forcibly removing him from that ceremony.
That’s right. This is one of those cases where if somebody had told me or I had read about this on Facebook, I probably would have looked it up on Snopes to see if it was real or not. But then I saw the video myself, just as you mentioned, and I couldn’t believe it. I was speechless.
So we represent Oscar Rodriguez. The lawsuit that we filed last week is against the United States Air Force. And what’s happened is the Air Force in response to the video going viral, just as you mentioned Rick, the Air Force initiated an investigation to find out what happened. Actually, it was the secretary of the Air Force.
This went to the very highest level of the Air Force in the Pentagon. They said, “We better do an investigation to find out what happened.” Well, they actually conducted two separate investigations. I don’t know why, that’s just the way they decided to do it.
They did one investigation into our First Amendment claims, that they violated Oscar’s First Amendment rights and they did a second investigation into our claims of other constitutional violations.
They released the results of the first investigation like a year ago, almost a year ago. Very quickly they released the results of that investigation which said, “Of course, you would expect the Air Force to say, “Oh we didn’t do anything wrong, we didn’t violate the Constitution.” But they did not release a second investigation and they refused to do so for more than seven months despite request, after request, after request under the Freedom of Information Act. So finally we just said, “Enough is enough. No more stalling and delaying. We’ll see you in court.”
Has President Trump Had An Effect On This Outcome Â
So you’re talking a year after the original event took place?
More than a year.
I guess even a year since their investigation was completed.
For you when you guys have to actually go after the military brass, I guess in this case, or whichever- I don’t know if you feel the same way in the military as I do in other government entities, but it’s really a bureaucratic thing. It’s some bureaucrat somewhere not wanting you guys to have access in this particular case.
In the past seven or eight years, you guys have been stonewalled really bad on a lot of these cases because you had an administration that was very anti-religious liberty. Is that getting any better with President Trump? Or because the bureaucracy, are you still hitting a lot of the same brick walls?
Well, it’s a little bit of both. I think once President Trump gets his people in there, once the right people get in there I should say, people who respect the Constitution and the rule of law in this country, then I think we’re going to start to finally make some headway.
But just as you said, what a lot of people don’t realize, and one of the reasons why we have to continue to support the administration in their efforts to put the right people in the right places whether it be in the bureaucracy of D.C., or in federal courts, we have to continue to support and push to get the right people in there. We still have a huge number of what we would refer to as “holdovers” from the Obama administration that continued to do those jobs.
They’re not necessarily super excited about the change in direction that hopefully, this administration is taking. So they’re going to do what they can to try to keep things going the way that they were for the past eight years. So that’s what I suspect is happening here. In fact, I know for a fact that the United States Air Force still does not have a new general counsel. In other words, the attorney who is responsible for overseeing the Air Force, that person is still left over from the Obama administration.
Standing Up For Our Military’s Rights
I”ve got to ask you, you”re a Â guy that served. You were deployed to Afghanistan. When you fight these battles, how much of this is, “Look, these are the guys and gals in our military willing to lay down their lives for our freedom. And we’re going to block their constitutional rights? We’re not going to allow them to have freedom of religion?”
Seems like it’s an even more important battle. Â I mean, all of us have our rights, but I’m assuming as a military guy there’s a little bit more passion when you get involved in one of these than a lot of other cases.
I do, for a number of reasons. It’s a great point that you bring up, Rick. Number one, look, the people who have made the sacrifice on the behalf of the rest of us so that we can have freedom, the very least we can do as a nation is ensure that they continue to have the same freedoms that they protect for us. It just seems like common sense to me. I mean, it’s more than common sense, it’s the law.
Then number two it is something that I would take more personally because, again, having served and having been in the situation that a lot of these guys find themselves in, it’s very frustrating and sometimes infuriating to see this giant bureaucracy known as the Department of Defense, like you said, continue to stonewall just basic constitutional rights and the rule of law. And that’s not the way that our country and certainly not the way our military is intended to function.
FirstLiberty.org is the Website. To follow the case you can go to FirstLiberty.org/Rodriguez. Get on their e-mail list folks, I”m telling you, First Liberty is involved in a ton of cases out there. Help them, support them financially, and share their post on Facebook so folks know these battles are going on.
Mike, this is so important not just for Rodriguez and the individuals that you guys go fight for but I was talking to somebody when we were at Patriot Academy- I really appreciate you coming to be a part of that and speaking.
I was talking to a couple of the veterans on the veterans track about this. The fact that there’s a generation now of good men that don’t want to sign up because they don’t want to be put in the situation where they can’t live out their faith and so there’s a perception that the military is unfriendly to these things.
So you guys fighting these battles now is about more than just defending Rodriguez and other individuals that are having their rights violated. It’s about this next generation knowing that if they go into the military they’re going to get to serve their country and keep their constitutional rights because we’ve got folks like First Liberty out there fighting for this.
Fighting For This Next Generation
Yeah, that’s such a great point. I’m glad you bring that up Rick, I travel around the country speaking to audiences about religious liberty and specifically about our military. Just as you said, my generation and even guys who served before me. Our time has kind of come and gone, if you will.
What really concerns me and scares me for our country and for our future is that I get a lot of men and women come up to me and say, “Mr. Berry, I served, I’m very proud of my country, I am proud to have served, and I love wearing the uniform. But seeing what’s happening in our military now, I will not let my son or daughter join the military.” And that is scary.
These are patriotic Americans. Our military needs the most highly qualified people we can get physically, morally, mentally, and etc. And if mothers and fathers in this country are saying, “I’m not going to let my child sign up” because of what has happened, this social experimentation that’s going on in our military, and especially this hostility to basic things such as religious freedom, then that is going to leave a massive moral vacuum in our military that’s going to endanger our nation and our national security.
No doubt. It’s huge, that”s why I strongly encourage people for more information FirstLiberty.org. We’ve got to win these battles and then we’ve got to make sure that our children know that we’ve won them and that once again it’s a military they can know that they’re going to be able to serve their country in and keep their rights.
Mike, God bless you, man. Keep up the great work. Let us know if there is anything we do to help. Look for to getting a good report on this case.
Thank you so much for having me.
That”s Mike Berry, FirstLiberty.Org. Stay with us, be right back with David and Tim Barton.
Hi, friends! This is Tim Barton of WallBuilders.This is a time when most Americans don’t know much about American history or even heroes of the faith. I know, oftentimes as parents, we”re trying to find good content for our kids to read.
If you remember back in the Bible, the Book of Hebrews it has the Faith Hall of Fame, where they outlined the leaders of faith that had gone before them. Well, this is something that as Americans we really want to go back and outline some of these heroes not just of American history, but heroes of Christianity and our faith as well.
I wanted to let you know about some biographical sketches we have available on our website. One is called, “The Courageous Leaders Collection“ and this collection includes people like Abigail Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Francis Scott Key, George Washington Carver, Susanna Wesley, even the Wright brothers.
There’s a second collection called, “Heroes of History“ in this collection you read about people like Benjamin Franklin, Christopher Columbus, Daniel Boone, George Washington, Harriet Tubman, the list goes on and on.
This is a great collection for your young person to have and read. And it’s a providential view of American and Christian history. This is available at WallBuilders.com.
Military Having Their First Amendment Rights Taken Away
Welcome back to WallBuilders Live, thanks for staying with us. That was Mike Berry from First Liberty on the last segment. We”re back with Tim and David Barton now. I know we’ve said it a million times in the program guys, but 20-25 years ago when we didn’t have folks like First Liberty, and Mike Berry, this stuff wouldn”t have happened, these guys would not have had any defense, they wouldn”t have been able to afford to follow a lawsuit like this. So thankful that we have so many good Christian attorneys out there fighting these battles.
Yeah, it really is something that we appreciate so much about First Liberty. We’ve talked about other groups, whether it”s Alliance Defending Freedom, or Pacific Justice, or Liberty Counsel, there’s a lot of groups out there doing this. It’s sad that we have to be in this position that we actually are needing and utilizing their service. But it’s great that groups like First Liberty, Mike Berry is on this case.
What’s interesting is he’s talking about how the Air Force did two investigations though. To me, that really stood out. The first one they came back and of course, they said, “Wait a second, we’ve done nothing wrong. We defend ourselves.” But then the second investigation they want to cover up.
Mike pointed out, that’s really interesting that you would do two investigations. But it’s also very interesting that you don’t want to reveal this because certainly, it seems like now it’s self-incriminating and therefore they don’t want to reveal to the public that they know they did the wrong thing.
Which, all you have to do is watch the video and know, yeah, you did the wrong thing. But it’s interesting that we’re in the place now just to pursue justice, you’re having to bring a lawsuit against the military just for justice for an individual who had his First Amendment rights taken away from him.
The Same Leadership Is Producing The Same Results
Rick, you asked him, “Now that we’ve got Trump in there, it’s a whole different tone to the military. So has that helped?” I thought the point he made is really key and I didn’t realize that.
He said that the general counsel of the Air Force is the same guy that was there under Obama. So they haven’t changed the general counsel, yet. So even though there’s a different tone in the military the chief legal guy for the Air Force is the same guy who was there before.
You remember Michael Weinstein was bragging about how the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which is kind of the Freedom From Religion Foundation for the military?
He was bragging about how he could call the Pentagon and get a religious activity shut down within an hour. You have the same general council and so no wonder they’re doing a kind of a cover up thing here. Hopefully, First Liberty is going to get to the bottom this and it”s going to really good for Oscar, and it needs to. The Constitution is really clear on this that he has the right to religious expression, particularly in a private setting.
I mean, there’s no question about that. But that’s one of the things that still needs to be done, and by the way, the Democrats and Senate have really been stonewalling appointments, new appointments going in. So you know, we may continue to see some of this even for a while more with this kind of nonsense. But hopefully, it’s going to turn around soon.
Staying In The Fight
It’s a good news program really on many fronts. First of all, that these guys were there fighting it but also that we are getting that change. But it does take time, it’s a huge machine. Like you said, with these appointments being stonewalled it’s going to make it drag it out a little bit further. That’s why it’s so important to have a president that will appoint folks that will stand for religious liberty and then have guys like Mike Berry out there to fight for. Thanks for listening today, folks. You’ve been listening to WallBuildersLive.