Lawmakers Question Air Force Officials Over Bible Quote

United States Air Force file photo

Despite an ongoing fight about retiring the A-10 and investigations into cheating scandals, perhaps the most contentious moment of a House committee hearing on the Air Force budget on Friday focused on religious freedom.

Republican Rep. Randy Forbes of Virginia, who is in the running to be the next Armed Services chairman, asked about reports from earlier this week that a cadet at the Air Force Academy was forced to take a Bible quote down from a whiteboard.

"Perhaps the most offensive, the Air Force said this was a teaching moment, that the cadet's action of putting the Bible verse on [the whiteboard] was inappropriate based on leadership principles," Forbes said, adding that he was going off of information he received from the Air Force.

Forbes said he was told the cadet "had no intention to offend anyone or any group" and that the boards had been used in the past to display inspirational quotes. Forbes compared putting the Bible quote up to lawmakers hanging an "In God We Trust" sign in their offices.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said she was told by Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, the superintendent of the academy, that the cadet was told by a classmate that the Bible quote made them uncomfortable, and the cadet offered to take it down.

But Forbes disputed that account.

"No, madame secretary, that's not true, by your own facts. If you'll read what your liaison officer has given to me, … the Air Force commander … went to that cadet," Forbes said. "... Can you imagine a young cadet when he's forced with the entire chain of command coming in there and telling him basically this is inappropriate?"

But Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force's chief of staff, pushed back, saying, "We remove hundreds of quotes from those boards, because they're not in their room, they're in the hallway. They're used for both personal and professional messaging, just to make sure we all understand that context."

Welsh stressed that the facts of what happened are still being established.

But a handful of Republican committee members backed Forbes and voiced their concerns over the reports.

GOP Rep. Michael Conaway of Texas said he is worried that "we have individuals who are so insecure and unsure of themselves that they can't coexist with a free expression … of traditional religious views.… I wonder if they are the right folks for that business."

And Republican Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana cited an article by Fox News' Todd Starnes over allegations that Gideons International, a Christian organization, was not allowed to hand out Bibles at an Air Force base.

"You have to get the facts right on every one of these cases. And try and stay unemotional until you know what happened," Welsh said. "I would not believe an article by Mr. Starnes, for starters.… I know there are cases when he has not had his facts right in articles. I would be happy to explain them to you, with him in the room."

Welsh added that the "single biggest frustration" of his job is "the perception that somehow there is religious persecution inside the Air Force. It is not true."

Republican Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah added a lighthearted moment to the spirited back-and-forths, asking: "If I'm offended by your budget, will you take it down?"

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.