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USAF Wants Sergeant Silenced; But Court Affirms Soldier's Free-Speech Rights

http://headlines.agapepress.org/archive/9/282005g.asp

By Chad Groening
September 28, 2005

(AgapePress) - A spokesman for a law firm dedicated to the defense of civil liberties and human rights says his organization is pleased that a judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed on behalf of an Air Force sergeant who was punished for speaking out about tainted anthrax vaccine.

The Rutherford Institute is representing Sergeant Jason Adkins, a C-5 aircraft flight engineer who served on the first C-5 flown into Baghdad during the Iraq war. The Institute's chief counsel, John Whitehead, says Adkins was required to take a series of anthrax vaccinations in order to be deployed overseas. Unfortunately, however, the sergeant began developing headaches and also suffered from memory loss.

Adkins went to an Air Force physician and reported the symptoms he was experiencing, including the memory loss, "which is a signal of problems with the anthrax vaccinations," Whitehead notes, and "which the Air Force is very skittish about." As a result, the attorney says, the aircraft flight engineer "was basically given a desk job and a reprimand for not flying."

However, the Rutherford Institute spokesman believes Adkins actually got into trouble with the Air Force by speaking out about what he believed was tainted anthrax vaccine. "That's when we filed our lawsuit," the chief counsel notes. "At that point, Adkins had made some statements to the press that we felt were appropriate, and he was disciplined for that."

Therefore, Whitehead goes on to explain, "our case is a First Amendment case saying that he has a right to speak out on matters of public concern. The Department of Defense had filed a motion to dismiss, and then just several days ago a federal court ruled in our behalf that he had a right to speak out, and they did not allow the case to be dismissed."

In that ruling, Whitehead points out, the judge "made an affirmative statement that this man has constitutional rights, and the government can't dismiss the case on that basis." According to the Rutherford Institute attorney, what the Air Force officials were basically saying was, in effect, "We have a right to discipline this man; he doesn't really have a right to speak out."

The federal judge's decision is "a really important victory," Whitehead asserts, explaining that, "What it says is that, in matters of public concern, military personnel do have basic constitutional rights." However, he says he expects the government will dig in its heels to defend its position, so the final disposition of Adkins' case could take a long time.