An airman who was relieved of his duties after he told his commanding officer that he could not support gay marriage has filed a formal complaint with the military alleging he is the victim of religious discrimination.
Senior Master Sgt. Phillip Monk, a 19-year veteran of the Air Force was punished after he disagreed with his commander when she wanted to severely reprimand an instructor who had expressed religious objections to homosexuality.
“I was relieved of my position because I don’t agree with my commander’s position on gay marriage,” Senior Master Sgt. Phillip Monk told Fox News. “We’ve been told that if you publicly say that homosexuality is wrong, you are in violation of Air Force policy.”
The Liberty Institute filed a formal complaint against Major Elisa Valenzuela on behalf of the Christian airman.
"Major Valenzuela asked SMSgt. Monk if he could agree with her belief that openly voicing a religious or moral opposition to same-sex marriage is discrimination," the official complaint reads. "Because of SMSgt. Monk's sincerely held religious belief, he could not agree with the major. As a direct result, Major Valenzuela immediately relieved SMSgt. Monk from his First Sergeant duties and reassigned him to a different unit."
Monk was also banned from returning to his unit's building and required special permission to retrieve his personal belongings.
Liberty Institute attorney Michael Berry said the major's actions are a violation of the law.
"Your conduct constitutes unlawful discrimination," Berry wrote in a letter to the major. "According to Department of Defense Directive 1020.02, unlawful discrimination against individuals or groups based on religion is contrary to good order and discipline, counterproductive to combat readiness and mission accomplishment, and shall not be condoned."
A spokesperson for Lackland Air Force Base public affairs told Fox News Monk was not punished and that he was simply at the end of his assignment.
"They did have a disagreement, but supposedly, they agreed to disagree," the spokesperson told Fox News. "But the wing commander said there was no punishment.
Monk has served as a first sergeant at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio since 2011. He recently returned from a deployment and discovered he had a new commander – an open lesbian.
“In one of our first meetings, she was talking about her promotion and she mentioned something about a benediction,” Monk told Fox News. “She said she wanted a chaplain but objected to one particular chaplain that she called a bigot because he preached that homosexuality is a sin.”
“She then said, ‘I don’t know what kind of people actually believe that kind of crap,’” Monk said, recalling the meeting. “I knew I was going to have a rough time in this unit and I would have to be very careful what I said.”
That moment came when Monk was called in to advise the commander on a disciplinary matter involving an Air Force instructor accused of making comments objecting to gay marriage.
The instructor was investigated and the members of his trainees were asked if the instructor had slandered homosexuals and whether he created a hostile work environment.
Monk said he quickly determined the instructor meant no harm by his public comments – comparing the United States with the fall of the Roman Empire.
“He said in spite of our differences, we can’t let that happen to the United States,” Monk said. “He then used homosexual marriage as an example – saying that he didn’t believe in it – but it doesn’t matter because he was going to train them the same way.”
Seven people filed complaints about the remarks. It then became Monk’s job to advise the commander on disciplinary action.
“Her very first reaction was to say, ‘we need to lop off the head of this guy,'” Monk said. “The commander took the position that his speech was discrimination.”
Monk suggested she use the incident as a learning experience – a way to teach everyone about tolerance and diversity.
“I don’t believe someone having an opinion for or against homosexuality is discriminatory,” Monk told Fox News.
From that point, Monk said he was told that he wasn’t on the same page as the commander and if I didn’t get on the page they were on, they would find another place for me to work.”
“I’m being chastised about what’s going on,” he said. “I’m told that members of the Air Force don’t have freedom of speech. They don’t have the right to say anything that goes against Air Force policy.”
Monk, who is a devout evangelical Christian, said he met with the young instructor and told him that he was fighting for him.
“He was really concerned,” he said. “He said he felt like he was on an island – that he couldn’t be who he is anymore. He didn’t understand why somebody would be offended.”
The instructor was eventually punished by having a letter of counseling placed in his official file.
Monk soon found himself in a very similar position after his commander ordered him to answer a question about whether people who object to gay marriage are guilty of discrimination.
“She said, ‘Sgt. Monk, I need to know if you can, as my first sergeant, if you can see discrimination if somebody says that they don’t agree with homosexual marriage,’” he said. “I refused to answer the question.”
Monk said to answer would have put him in a legal predicament.
“And as a matter of conscience I could not answer the question the way the commander wanted me to,” he said.
At that point, Monk said that perhaps it would be best if he went on leave. The commander agreed.
“I was essentially fired for not validating my commander’s position on having an opinion about homosexual marriage,” he said.
Monk said he is brokenhearted over the way the military has treated him.
“If this young man would’ve given a speech and said he was good with homosexuality, we wouldn’t be here,” he said. “The narrative is that you cannot say anything that contradicts Air Force policy.”
He said in essence, Christians are trading places with homosexuals.
“Christians have to go into the closet,” he said. “We are being robbed of our dignity and respect. We can’t be who we are.”
Monk said he is scared to speak out – and understands that he could face severe penalties.
“They will make this about me but I have an impeccable record,” he said. “I stand on my own two feet. People have to know what’s going on.”
And he’s also doing it for his three teenage sons.
“Every night after dinner we read the Bible together,” he said. “I tell the boys we’ve got a lot of stuff going on in this world and we need people to stand up. My boys know what I’m going through. They are looking at me – wanting to know how I’m going to handle this.”
He said the Monks have a “family ethos.”
“The Monk family will be strong in mind, strong in soul, they will have strong character and strong work ethic,” he said. “That is the ethos of our family. That’s what I hope they see in me.”
And more importantly, he hopes his young sons will see “a man who stand upright and stands for integrity.”