Air Force Accused of Punishing Reservist for Private Speech

Air Force Accused of Punishing Reservist for Private Speech

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A new lawsuit is accusing the Department of the Air Force and the U.S. Space Force of punishing a reservist for speaking out against the “enforcement tactics” of those he says are quashing courage and truth within the military.

Space Force reservist Jace Yarbrough delivered remarks in uniform in early 2021 at the retirement ceremony of one of his fellow service members aboard the Battleship Missouri Memorial, in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, his legal team said.

The battleship is privately owned and operated, according to a press release from Yarbrough’s legal representation, First Liberty Institute, the law firm Winston & Strawn, and the Ave Maria School of Law Veterans and Servicemembers Law Clinic.

Though Yarbrough traveled to the ceremony, attended, and spoke on his own dime and in his capacity as a private citizen and friend, the Air Force reportedly issued a Letter of Admonishment (“LOA”) after military members who were present complained about Yarbrough’s speech.

In that speech, the reservist quoted C.S. Lewis and Soviet-era dissident and Christian Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and expressed concerns that the military is breeding “incompetence and cowardice.”

The Air Force declined to comment on ongoing litigation to The Daily Signal and would not confirm that it had sent Yarbrough the LOA.

“The Air Force and the wider [Defense Department] are under threat, not only from without, but from within,” Yarbrough said in his remarks, obtained by The Daily Signal. “Over the last decade, the totalizing claims of a radical political faction within our wider culture have broken into our military. This faction, time and again, has brought the culture war inside the DOD, knowing that if it can capture our top brass, the lower ranks will salute smartly and follow.”

“Over the past 10-15 years,” he continued, “we have seen our service take sides on the most controversial issues of our times. Our service has been politicized. This, I fear, is a death knell for courage and competence.”

Yarbrough warned that this radical political faction within the military is not concerned with “objective reality,” but instead with “compliance with the party message.”

“We have seen their enforcement tactics,” he said. “They cow their opponents into participation in their dishonesty through fear of professional and social retribution.”

Ordinary Americans face canceling if they make basic statements like “men can’t birth babies,” or “boys should not be allowed in the girls’ locker room,” he said.

“These are intuitive, basic facts about the world,” the reservist continued. “They cannot be avoided in everyday life, by everyday Americans. Denying them requires constant, maybe even continuous, self-deception.”

“What is worse, this deception is induced by fear; when we submit to it, we are cowards,” he added. “When we keep silent about the lies we see (whether to keep our jobs or merely to avoid uncomfortable
situations), we bury the lie inside ourselves. We habituate ourselves to dishonesty. Our grip on objective reality slips, and we are less capable and less effective in our world. By making the lie a part of ourselves, we become incompetent.”

And this “awful dynamic” has become part of the Defense Department’s culture, Yarbrough said. He speculated that airmen were being sent a warning—namely, that if they got on the wrong side of a political question, they would be labeled an “extremist” and given the option of conforming or being rooted out.

Yarbrough quoted Solzhenitsyn’s “A Candle in the Wind,” saying:

To stand up for truth is nothing. For truth, you must sit in jail. You can resolve to live your life with integrity. Let your credo be this: Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me. The simple step of a courageous individual is not to take part in the lie. One word of truth outweighs the world. In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousandfold in the future.

And Yarbrough articulated a choice for his fellow airmen: “Will you continue the work he started? Will you have the fortitude to insist on competence, or will you fold? If we are to get through this time of—and I know no better word for it—insanity, it will be because a critical mass of airmen said, ‘Let the lie come, but not through me.’”

The Daily Signal’s readers can find the entire text of the speech here:

Unless the Air Force’s Letter of Admonishment is rescinded, his legal teams say, it will continue to adversely affect his career.

“We’ve entered dangerous territory if the Air Force thinks it can punish Jace for his private religious exercise and private speech while acting as a private citizen in a private venue,” Danielle Runyan, senior counsel for the Plano, Texas-based First Liberty Institute, a Christian conservative nonprofit law firm, said in a statement. “In his purely civilian capacity, Jace had permission to speak freely and exercise his U.S. constitutional and federally protected rights as an American citizen. The Air Force’s punishment of Jace is a perfect example of the very cancel culture he warned about in his speech.”

Yarbrough himself weighed in on the lawsuit in a separate statement.

Jace Yarbrough (Photo: First Liberty)

“As the totalizing claims of radical progressivism devour more and more of our common life and institutions, even prosaic, obvious, and natural truths are vilified as harmful and extreme,” he said. “I did not seek out this fight, but my faith forbids me from quietly assenting to what I know to be false. As a Christian I will not live by lies, even if it means I am no longer allowed to serve in uniform the country that I love, which has been one of the singular privileges of my life.”

Yarbrough is also represented by the Veterans and Servicemembers Law Clinic at the Naples, Florida-based Ave Maria Law School. Antony Kolenc, an associate clinical professor of law and director of the law clinic, said in a statement that “this cause is central to our mission.”

“Our clinical students have been inspired by Jace’s courage to take a stand for the rights of military reservists,” he said. “We hope this case will help stop the erosion of First Amendment protections in the U.S. armed forces.”

The Defense Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.