Lieutenant Wants Evaluation Retracted: Vows Fight to Make Air Force Accommodate Religious Beliefs

Article excerpt

An Air Force lieutenant who says his Roman Catholic faith will not allow him to work with women in nuclear-missile bunkers is asking to have an unfavorable performance report struck from his file or he will sue the Air Force, his attorney said yesterday.

"I love my faith, I love my church, I love being in the military," 1st Lt. Ryan Berry told a Capitol Hill news conference yesterday, adding: "I fully intend to spend 20 years in the service. I also love my wife and my child. But I am not being allowed to combine my loves. I have to sell one of them short."

Lt. Berry said that being assigned to spend a 24-hour shift alone with a female officer in an underground missile site would violate his religious beliefs.

The threat of a lawsuit came the same day Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Ryan, writing in a letter to Lt. Berry's supporters in Congress, said Lt. Berry would be "scheduled for training to a new career field, followed by an assignment to another installation."

Gen. Ryan said Lt. Berry's superior officers determined that his "personal convictions could no longer be accommodated without creating an unacceptable impact on the unit's ability to accomplish the military mission."

Gen. Ryan's letter is "a vapid response. It's nonsense," said Harry Hamilton, Lt. Berry's attorney. "If the Air Force persists in stigmatizing Lieutenant Berry as a malcontent, we will exhaust all administrative remedies, and then we will bring suit."

If the adverse performance report is allowed to stand, it would effectively end Lt. Berry's Air Force career.

The treatment of Lt. Berry is "perverse," according to Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights President William Donohue, an Air Force veteran. Mr. Donohue said the Air Force policy reflects a "feminist agenda," and shows the "silliness" of the military today.

"Lt. Berry's beliefs are totally consistent with what the Catholic Church teaches," Mr. Donohue said.

The 26-year-old lieutenant's wife, Jill, stood with him at the news conference, holding their 6-month-old daughter, Juliana. …