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Air Force sued over free speech rights of airman who called out cancel culture while in uniform


Daily Caller News Foundation

A Space Force reservist filed a lawsuit against the Air Force, Space Force and the Department of Defense on Tuesday alleging he faced unlawful punishment for speaking out against cancel culture and progressive policies during a private event.

First Liberty Institute, law firm Winston & Strawn and the Ave Maria School of Law Veterans and Servicemembers Law Clinic filed the lawsuit on behalf of Jace Yarbrough, who in 2021 was invited to speak at a retirement ceremony for SMSgt Duane Fish allegedly in a personal capacity, according to a press release. After an unnamed Navy member present at the ceremony complained about the contents of the speech, the Air Force censured Yarbrough, now a Major in the Air Force Reserve and attorney.

“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,” Yarbrough said in the press release. “I did not seek out this fight, but my faith forbids me from quietly assenting to what I know to be false.”

After lengthy speech extolling Fish and those who supported him, Yarbrough turned to the elements of “cancel culture” he saw pervading U.S. military, according to a copy of his remarks provided by the plaintiffs. Yarbrough accused a “radical political faction” of compelling the military to take sides on culture issues, such as transgenderism, and called the DOD extremism training a “thinly veiled flex of political power.”

“The Air Force and the wider DoD are under threat, not only from without, but from within,” Yarbrough said at the ceremony. “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.”

DOD regulation prohibits service members from engaging in partisan behavior while in uniform on active duty and generally encourages them to consider carefully any public speech when they could be construed as representing the U.S. military.

Plaintiffs argue that because Yarbrough spoke at a private event and was off duty at the time, First Amendment protections should apply to his speech just as they would to any American not in uniform. Yarbrough wore his uniform to the event “in keeping with the tradition of military retirement and other private formal ceremonies,” the complaint states.

Yarbrough’s supervisor issued him a “Letter of Admonition” in 2021 calling Yarbrough’s remarks “insubordinate, disrespectful, and unbecoming of an officer in the military,” creating a permanent stain on his service record, according to the complaint. Plaintiffs say Yarbrough was punished “solely for his private religious belief and private speech on matters of public concern.”

The complaint also says the Air Force tried to discipline Yarbrough by relying on an “unfounded” instruction permitting actions against off-duty reservists acting in their civilian capacity.

“The Air Force’s punishment of Jace is a perfect example of the very cancel culture he warned about in his speech,” Danielle Runyan, senior counsel for First Liberty Institute, said in the press release.

The Air Force did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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Republished with permission from Daily Caller News Foundation

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