Lt. Ryan Berry v. U.S. Air Force
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Lt. Ryan Berry, 26, is a West Point graduate who followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Air Force to become a nuclear missileer. Berry morally objected to sex-integrated silo duty where each missile silo had one bed and toilet facilities shielded only by a retractable curtain — rendering privacy minimal. Berry sought counsel from the base Catholic chaplain who agreed that mixing of the sexes among silo crews was improper and a likely occasion of sin.
From May 1997 to December 1998, Berry’s religious waiver was honored and he worked silo duty exclusively with men. He received excellent job performance evaluations. Then several squadron members complained about “preferential” treatment, and the new wing commander, Col. Ronald Haeckel, refused to continue Berry’s religious accommodation.
In an April job performance review, Haeckel blasted Berry for “unacceptable professionalism.” He wrote that Berry “refuses to accept personal responsibilities … (and) will not perform duties with fully qualified female crew members.” Berry was then decertified from working with nuclear missiles and assigned to a desk job.
Recognizing a violation of Lt. Berry’s religious liberty, Becket stepped in to negotiate a favorable settlement for Berry with the U.S. Air Force.