Air Force gives vet service award amid religious freedom fight

by Leigh Jones
Posted 2/19/14, 01:50 pm

The U.S. Air Force has awarded its Meritorious Service Medal to a 19-year combat veteran who claimed his commanding officer fired him because of his views on same-sex marriage.

Senior Master Sgt. Phillip Monk received the award, the second-highest non-combat recognition the Air Force can bestow, on Feb. 12. It is the best sign Monk won’t be punished for filing a religious discrimination complaint, said Michael Berry, senior council with the Liberty Institute, which represents Monk.

“This is a noble gesture by the Air Force to recognize Senior Master Sgt. Monk’s hard work and sacrifice,” Berry said in a statement. “I’m pleased that they’ve done the right thing by him. Because of his example, other service members should be encouraged to stand up for their religious beliefs.”

Monk claimed last year that his commanding officer, Maj. Elise Valenzuela, relieved him of his duty at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio because he refused to answer questions about his beliefs on same-sex marriage. Valenzuela is openly gay and had asked Monk whether people who disagreed with same-sex marriage discriminated against homosexuals. Monk, a Christian, believes marriage should only be between one man and one woman.

A Lackland spokesman disputed Monk’s claims he was reassigned because of a dispute with Valenzuela, insisting his assignment was complete. But documentation released after the Liberty Institute filed its complaint on Monk’s behalf showed the assignment was not due to end for several more months. A spokeswoman for Monk’s previous unit then said the Air Force had ordered a formal investigation into the matter.

The service award is the Air Force’s way of publicly acknowledging Monk did nothing wrong, Berry told me. Monk had feared his career might be over after filing his complaint, but, according to Berry, the award indicates both “his career and pension are about as safe as they are going to get.” 

Leigh Jones

Leigh is acting managing editor for WORLD Radio. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate who spent six years as a newspaper reporter in Texas before joining WORLD. Leigh also co-wrote Infinite Monster: Courage, Hope, and Resurrection in the Face of One of America's Largest Hurricanes. She resides with her husband and daughter in Houston, Texas.

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