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Gazette Premium Content Congressional candidates slam Lamborn letter about AFA religious freedoms

By Tom Roeder Updated: April 16, 2014 at 8:02 pm

Fifth Congressional District candidate Bentley Rayburn on Wednesday chided his primary election opponent, Rep. Doug Lamborn, saying the congressman is not doing enough to guarantee religious freedoms at the Air Force Academy.

Lamborn announced Tuesday that he had written a letter to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James urging revision of Air Force regulations to permit more expression of their beliefs in the workplace.

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

Rayburn, a retired two-star general and Air Force Academy graduate who has support among the GOP's evangelical wing, said if elected, he would bring the matter up for congressional debate.

Lamborn's letter came just days after Rayburn garnered enough delegate votes to force a primary election.

The AFA's policies about religious expression have been in and out of the news for the last few years. In March, there was "whiteboard-gate" - a storm that erupted after a cadet wrote a Bible passage on a message board outside his dorm room and erased it after criticism.

The academy, which didn't require the Bible verse to be removed, says it 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 academy's rules 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.

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

Halter 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."

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.

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