A veteran member of the U.S. Army Band said he is facing retribution and punishment from the military for having anti-Obama bumper stickers on his car, reading books written by conservative authors like Mark Levin and David Limbaugh, and serving Chick-fil-A sandwiches at his promotion party.
Master Sgt. Nathan Sommers, a 25-year Army veteran and conservative Christian based at Fort Myer in Washington, believes his outspoken opposition to gay marriage prompted higher-ups to take a closer look at his beliefs. The recipient of an Army Commendation Medal and a soloist at the funeral of former First Lady Betty Ford, Sommers said his core beliefs are enough to mark a soldier for persecution in today’s military.
“It seems like with the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – that the Christians have been the ones who’ve had to go underground and in the closet – for fear of retaliation and reprisals,” Sommers told Fox News. “Christians feel like they can’t be forthright with their faith. They have to hide.”
Ret. Navy Commander John Bennett Wells is representing the master sergeant. He said there is no doubt in his mind that the U.S. military is discriminating against Christians – and specifically his client.
“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.”
Lt. Col. Justin Platt, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon released a statement to Fox News noting that the military branch cannot comment on ongoing investigations or administrative actions.
“With respect to the political activities, soldiers are expected to carry out their obligations as citizens in accordance with applicable regulations,” Platt said.
Army documents obtained by Fox News indicate Sommers was told that his actions bordered on being disrespectful to President Obama and the “slightest inference of disrespect towards superiors can have a demoralizing effect on the unit.”
“You should strive to express your opinion while being aware of the overall ramifications of your statements,” the Army noted.
Sommers’ troubles began last April when he was told to remove pro-Republican, anti-Obama bumper stickers that were on his privately owned car.
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.”
“The types of stickers on your car were creating an atmosphere detrimental to morale and were creating unnecessary workplace tension,” the officer wrote in an Army document obtained by Fox News. “A Soldier must balance their personal feelings with the mission of the U.S. Army. Even the slightest inference of disrespect towards superiors can have a demoralizing effect on the unit.”
Attorney Wells said once he got involved, the military backed off of filing a formal reprimand.
“He’s allowed to have those bumper stickers on his car,” he said. “The DoD regulation allows it. There was nothing obscene about it.”
During the summer months, Sommers came under fire for reading the works of Mark Levin, Sean Hannity and David Limbaugh.
Sommers was reading Limbaugh’s “The Great Destroyer” backstage at a U.S. Army Band concert at the U.S. Capitol. A superior officer told him that he was causing “unit disruption” and was offending other soldiers.
“I wasn’t reading aloud,” he said. “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.”
In another episode, he had been caught backstage reading a copy of Levin’s “Ameritopia: The Unmaking of America.”
Sommers said he was told to refrain from reading the book “while in uniform or within sight of anyone from the band.”
“This is the first time since (my superior officer) indicated I had offended others with my choice of reading material, that I was officially counseled about it,” he said. “The statement took my breath away. I was speechless.”
In spite of those incidents, the Army promoted the soldier in September to the rank of master sergeant. But the promotion would also mark the launch of an effort by the military to punish the soldier.
His promotion coincided with a controversy surrounding Chick-fil-A. The company’s president told a reporter that he was “guilty as charged” when it came to supporting traditional marriage. Gay rights activists pounced- calling for a boycott of the Christian-owned company. And some Democratic officials vowed to block Chick-fil-A from opening restaurants in their cities.
In response to that, Fox News Channel host Mike Huckabee launched a national Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day to rally support for the restaurant chain.
“I was inspired by Gov. Huckabee’s appreciation day,” Sommers told Fox News. “And since I wasn’t able to participate in the event, I decided to serve Chick-fil-A at my promotion party.”
It’s a long-standing tradition within the U.S. Army Band for promoted soldiers to host a party for their fellow troops. So the soldier decided to have Chick-fil-A cater the meal.
“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.”
He also tweeted to radio host Mark Levin: “@Marklevinshow ‘luv ya, Mark! Fellow Virginian & MSG, Army. Being promoted today, serving Chick-fil-A @ reception in honor of DADT repeal.”
Both tweets were cited in 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.
He was later summoned by a superior officer, who the soldier said is openly gay, and was told that unidentified individuals were offended by the tweets and some considered them to be racist.
Sommers was reprimanded, threatened with judicial action and given a bad efficiency report. An investigation was also launched.
“It’s an obvious attempt to set him up and force him out of the military,” Wells said. “They recently did an NCO evaluation that effectively torpedoed his chance at promotion and he could be forced out of the Army.”
During the course of their investigation, the military unearthed a tweet from 2010 that included a derogatory word for homosexuals. The soldier admitted that he had retweeted someone else’s original tweet.
“Lordy, Lordy, it’s faggot Tuesday. The lefty loons and Obamabots are out in full force,” the retweet read.
The soldier was hauled in to explain himself before a superior officer.
“He explained to me that homosexual Soldiers were now afraid of me,” Sommers said. “He showed me a letter from an Army Band colleague that demanded that I publicly apologize (to) the band for my statements and that I should be removed from positions of leadership and influence.”
Sommers admitted the retweet was a case of bad judgment on his part, but he said he believes that a group of homosexual soldiers are on a witch hunt and they were “attempting to dig up any negative information they could in order to silence me or ruin my career.”
Attorney Wells said Sommers is taking a “courageous course.”
“He’s not going to abandon his beliefs,” he said. “It would be easy for him to stand up and say, ‘Oh, I’ve seen the light. Yes, I was wrong – and I’m going to do everything I can to embrace the political correctness and all will be forgiven.’”
But Wells said the soldier’s “conscience won’t allow him to do that.”
Sommers said he has worked alongside gay soldiers for quite some time and does not have a problem serving with them.
“My point is everybody has a right,” he said. “Christians also have a right to express their points of view and that’s what’s being squelched here. There is no tolerance or dissent from the military’s point of view.”
The soldier fears that the military is becoming less tolerant.
“Ironically, the liberals are preaching tolerance,” he said. “They are saying, ‘We can tolerate you.’ But if you have a certain belief that doesn’t align with what the military wants you to believe – particularly religious beliefs – you’re no longer welcome in the U.S. military.”
Attorney Wells said his client is not going down without a fight – and they are vowing to file a federal lawsuit and reach out to Congress if necessary.
Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty said stories like this are becoming commonplace in the military post-repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
“These stories are the ones that have not been told – about some of the more subtle ramifications of the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy,” he said.
One service member received a severe reprimand for expressing his faith’s religious position about homosexuality in a personal religious blog.
A chaplain was relieved of his command over a military chapel because he could not allow same-sex weddings to take place in the chapel.
And a chaplain who asked senior military officers whether religious liberty would be protected in the wake of the repeal of the law against open homosexual behavior in the military was told to “get in line” or resign.
Crews said they are sharing these stories to let other service members know there is a place to get help. He said Chaplain Alliance publishes a religious liberty palm card – explaining constitutionally protected liberties to service members.
“If you believe your religious liberties have been violated, here’s what you can do,” he said. “We will see that you get the help that you need.”
And what about Sommers?
“We’re going to stand with this soldier who did nothing wrong,” Crews said. “There is nothing wrong in saying he wants to celebrate DOMA – which happens to be federal law.
UPDATE: After this story was published, the Military District of Washington issued the following statement:
A public affairs spokesperson said Sommers did have the right to display a political sticker on his private vehicle.
“Accordingly, the Soldier was not prohibited from displaying a political bumper sticker. Instead, the Soldier’s supervisor discussed the appropriateness of the bumper stickers with him and potential perceptions of others in light of the regulatory guidance.”
“The Soldier is not, and never has been, “facing retribution and punishment from the military for having anti-Obama bumper stickers on his car, reading books written by conservative authors like Mark Levin and David Limbaugh, and serving Chick-fil-A sandwiches at his promotion party,” the spokesperson added.