A member of the U.S. Army Band who said he was reprimanded for having anti-Obama bumper stickers on his personal car, serving Chick-fil-A sandwiches at a party and reading books written by conservative authors like Sean Hannity was found guilty of three Article 15 charges.
Master Sgt. Nathan Sommers, a decorated soloist with the Army Band, was found guilty Thursday of failing to go to an appointed place of duty, disobedience of an order and making a false official statement, his attorney said.
The charges were handed down June 9, one day after Sommers told Fox News that he was facing discrimination and persecution because of his conservative political and religious beliefs.
Retired Navy Commander John Bennett Wells told Fox News the charges were stemmed from giving a superior officer the wrong date for a doctor’s appointment. He’s also accused of failing to carry out an order. In order to comply with that order, Sommers would have had to disclose private information about his autistic son’s medical records.
“The timing does seem strange,” Wells told Fox News. “It’s suspicious. It looks like a graduated attempt to build a case against him on some really ridiculous charges.
Sommers, a 25-year military veteran, received an oral reprimand and will not be reduced in rank.
Wells said he plans on appealing the non-judicial punishment and is considering a lawsuit under the Administrative Procedures Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“MSG Sommers wants to thank the tens of thousands of Americans that have followed his case and offered up prayers for his case,” Wells said. “He has decided to put his fate in God’s hands and continues to pray for those who are persecuting him.”
The Military District of Washington did not return calls seeking comment about the soldier’s punishment.
Retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin told Fox News it appears the Army is trying to send a message to not only Sommers but others in his unit.
“Over my 36 years in the US Army I saw numerous situations like this where a soldier is singled out by the chain of command for punishment,” Boykin said. “The Article 15 proceeding may be technically legitimate, but one must recognize that an Army Master Sergeant with 25 years does not normally do stupid things that are easily avoidable unless there is some mitigating circumstance.”
Boykin said the issue is whether the chain of command would be doing this if it were not for his outspoken Christian faith and his unwillingness to compromise on what he believes.
“It seems to me that the chain of command has failed to deter him from his beliefs and has resorted to this step now,” he said.
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Sommers’ troubles started last year when he was confronted about having pro-Republican and anti-Obama bumper stickers on his personal vehicle.
The stickers read: “Political Dissent is NOT Racism,” “NOBAMA,” NOPE2012” and “The Road to Bankruptcy is Paved with Ass-Fault.” That sticker included the image of a donkey.
His superior officer told the solider that the bumper stickers were creating “unnecessary workplace tension.”
Sommers also came under fire for reading the works of Mark Levin, Sean Hannity and David Limbaugh. Last summer he was reading Limbaugh’s “The Great Destroyer” backstage at a concert when a superior officer told him that he was causing “unit disruption” and was offending other soldiers.
“I wasn’t reading aloud,” Sommers told Fox News. “I was just reading privately to myself. I was told they were frowning on that and they warned me that I should not be reading literature like that backstage because it was offensive.”
Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity expressed dismay at the book censorship.
“What a sad day for American when an American hero can have his personal freedoms ripped away – when that very military he works for is on the frontlines defending those very freedoms for every United States citizen,” Hannity told Fox News. “What’s next – book burning? Government approved reading lists? State run media outlets? Can military members read Obama’s books?”
But the incident that led to an official investigation of Sommers came late last summer when he served Chick-fil-A sandwiches at his promotion party.
“My family likes Chick-fil-A and we like what they stand for,” he said. “I can make a statement and at least express a religious point of view at my promotion party – theoretically without any fear of reprisal.”
The soldier also tweeted about the party: “In honor of DADT repeal, and Obama/Holder’s refusal to enforce DOMA act, I’m serving Chick-fil-A at my MSG promo reception for Army today.”
The tweet came under fire from his superior officers, according to an official military document.
“As a Soldier you must be cognizant of the fact that your statements can be perceived by the general public and other service members to be of a nature bordering on disrespect to the President of the United States,” the document stated.
Sommers said he paid for the party with personal money, not government funds.
“I had no idea a Chick-fil-A sandwich would get me in trouble,” he said.
Attorney Wells believes Sommers is being discriminated against not only because of his Christian faith, but also because of his objections to homosexuality.
“There’s no question about it,” Wells told Fox News. “Because he is religious, because he feels that homosexual conduct is wrong for religious reasons, he is basically being persecuted.”