2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Air Force Academy religion: Lamborn opponents react

Published: April 16, 2014, 2:25 pm, by Tom Roeder

USAFAsealThe two men battling Doug Lamborn for his 5th Congressional seat reacted Wednesday to the Republican’s call for the Air Force to relax its regulations to permit more religious expression at the Air Force Academy and throughout the service.

Lamborn’s letter, co-signed by 22 of his Republican colleagues, asked Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James to revise Air Force regulations to permit the faithful to express their beliefs in the workplace. It was the latest outfall of March’s “whiteboard-gate” at the academy — a storm that erupted after a cadet wrote a Bible passage on a message board outside his dorm room and erased it in response to criticism.

The academy, which didn’t require the verse to be removed, says the Bible verse fell in a gray area. Existing regulations say commanders can’t proselytize in the workplace or favor one religion over other beliefs.

Lamborn said he wants the regulation to allow more expression.

“These restrictive regulations are a driving force behind many of the Air Force’s recent violations of religious freedom, such as the recent whiteboard incident at the Air Force Academy,” Lamborn said Tuesday.

His Republican primary rival Bentley Rayburn says Lamborn isn’t doing enough to fight for religious rights and free speech.

Bentley Rayburn, a retired two-star and Air Force Academy graduate said he would bring teh matter up for congressional debate.

“We need more than a letter,” Rayburn said. “We need to have a forceful debate about these issues.”

The lone Democrat in the race, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Irv Halter intones that Lamborn is going too far.

Halter couldn’t be reached for questions, but issued a brief statement saying an ongoing review of Air Force religious policies needs to be completed before Congress chimes in.

“”Congressman Lamborn’s letter is a great example of why so many Coloradans dislike Washington,” Halter wrote.  “As someone who proudly served in the Air Force for 32 years, I can tell you that the last thing the Academy needs is a bunch of politicians in Washington like Congressman Lamborn issuing demands so they can score political points.

“Of course, cadets must be able to freely express their faith, but the responsible course of action is to wait for the Academy’s review before stirring the pot.”

The Air Force Academy may be home to the most famous whiteboard in history.

Since the Military Religious Freedom Foundation called for removal of the Bible verse in March, the flap has dominated a congressional budget hearing and drawn criticism from groups including the Family research council.

Lamborn’s letter on the topic is his second.

Weighing in is good politics for the congressman, whose 5th District is home to five military bases and major religious organizations including Focus on the Family.

Lamborn in past campaigns has worked to court religious voters and this year introduced a bill to block federal funding for abortion.