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Gazette Premium Content Lamborn makes push to allow religious expression at academy

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By Tom Roeder Updated: April 15, 2014 at 7:50 pm

U.S. Rep Doug Lamborn penned a letter signed by 21 of his colleagues demanding that the Air Force relax its rules on religious expression.

It's the latest fallout of March's "whiteboard gate," an incident in which a cadet penned a Bible passage on a message board outside a dorm room and voluntarily erased it in the face of complaints of religious intolerance.

In the Tuesday letter to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, Lamborn said the military needs to protect religious speech on base.

The Republican wants the Air Force to revise its policies and "provide clear guidance on implementation to ensure the Air Force adequately protects the religious freedom of all airmen."

The Air Force has initiated a review of its religious policies. Air Force chief Gen. Mark Welsh is convening a panel of lawyers and chaplains, including representatives of the Air Force Academy, to review the service's religion rules.

"The goal of that review is to clarify where the rubber meets the road and ensure dignity and respect for all," the academy said in a statement.

Existing Air Force policy demands that airmen remain neutral on matters of religion while in their official capacity. For instance, leaders including ranking cadets cannot advocate for any faith.

Lamborn says that's infringing on free-expression rights.

"These restrictive regulations are a driving force behind many of the Air Force's recent violations of religious freedom, such as the recent white board incident at the Air Force Academy," Lamborn wrote in a statement.

The whiteboard Bible verse has caused a stir on both sides of the religious spectrum.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation contends that the verses outside a dorm room at the academy is part of a wider pattern of proselytizing at the school and creates a hostile environment for non-Christians.

The Family Research Council and other faith-based groups contend that the government is making the academy an uncomfortable place for believers by stopping religious expression.

The academy's superintendent, Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson has said a gray area in regulations has left the school caught amid a national debate: Proselytizing in the workplace is regulated but airmen have a right to practice their faith freely.

Johnson said last month the academy is working to balance those opposing forces in the dormitories where cadets live and work during their four years at the school.

"Clearly, there are larger national issues at play," the academy said Tuesday.

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