When you join the military, you give up a lot of things others take for granted. But one thing you should not give up are your constitutional liberties.
I have no idea if the military can order a soldier not to read certain authors,. I suspect not because it would be a clear infringement of that soldier's First Amendment rights.
And that's why this story is so disturbing:
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 had some overtly politlcal bumper stickers on his car and was told to remove them.
But what of religious based opposition to gay marriage? The military has chosen to see the issue as a political one, and not a religious one. And I suppose they can make the argument that any gay men or women in his unit might be offended by his writings and thus contribute to a lowering of unit morale.
But the idea that the army can dictate what you should be reading is outrageous:
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.
The army is now denying everything which sets up a probable lawsuit by Sommers. The army can claim the Sommer is disruptive and his beliefs are threatening to others. But they can't take away his constitutional liberties and they have no defense for that.