Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Court Upholds Military Reprimand To Enlistee For Objecting To Same-Sex Wedding

In Wilson v. James, (D DC, Oct. 13, 2015), the D.C. federal district court dismissed RFRA, 1st and 5th Amendment and various other challenges by an enlisted member of the Utah Air National Guard to letters of reprimand he received for his opposition to a same-sex wedding ceremony held at West Point's chapel.

After reading about the wedding ceremony, Layne Wilson, a Mormon, sent an e-mail using his military account to a major whom he believed to be the chaplain at the U.S. Military Academy, saying in part: "Our base chapels are a place of worship and this [is] a mockery to God and our military core values." His commander issued a letter of reprimand for this, which led to Wilson to rebuke his commander on Facebook, posting: "You embarrass me, our country, and our unit!!!...." That led to a second letter of reprimand and suspension of Wilson's security clearance. Wilson sued, bringing, in the court's words, "a bevy of claims." Rejecting Wilson's RFRA claim, the court said in part:
A substantial burden on one’s religious beliefs—as distinct from such a burden on one’s exercise of religious beliefs—does not violate RFRA....
Admittedly, the First LOR likely chilled Plaintiff’s speech regarding his religious beliefs, especially within the military setting. But nowhere does Plaintiff assert that LDS doctrine requires him to publicly voice his dissent about homosexuality or same-sex marriage.... Plaintiff only contends that, under LDS doctrine, homosexuality is a sin.... His religious belief, however, does not become a protected religious exercise under RFRA simply because Plaintiff expressed it through speech.
Rejecting Wilson's free speech claim, the court held:
An email from an enlisted member of the military that protests the decision of a senior military official outside the sender’s chain of command and urges that official to reverse his decision receives no First Amendment protection.