Gen. Boykin on Air Force Sec. Nominee: Will She Protect Religious Liberty of Airmen?

By Michael W. Chapman | September 18, 2013 | 7:57pm EDT

Lt. Gen. (Ret.) William "Jerry" Boykin, executive vice president of the Family Research Council.

( – As President Barack Obama’s nominee for Air Force secretary, Deborah Lee James, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, senators need to confirm if she is committed to protecting the religious liberty of members of the Air Force, many of whom are facing religious persecution by their own commanders, said Lt. Gen. (Ret.) William G. “Jerry” Boykin, the executive vice president of the Family Research Council (FRC).

“My biggest concern is where she stands on religious liberty in the military because the Air Force has a particularly egregious problem right now,” Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Boykin told

In a new report, A Clear and Present Danger: The Threat to Religious Liberty in the Military, the FRC documents numerous cases of persecution against members of the U.S. military, many of them Air Force, for religious-related reasons. Most of the cases involve opposition to conservative Christian beliefs, reportedly including banning Bibles, labeling evangelicals and Catholics extremists, and trying to force a soldier to endorse gay marriage.

The concern over the persecution of military personnel who are Christian has led to legislation, in the House and Senate, that lawmakers want attached to the National Defense Authorization Act.  The White House, however, has threatened a veto over the measure.

Obama nominated Deborah Lee James to be the new Air Force secretary in early August. Jones, 54, has not served in the military but has worked for several defense contractors, including Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) where she currently is president of the Technology and Engineering Sector. She also worked in government on the House Armed Services Committee and, from 1993-1998, was assistant secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs.

When asked Boykin whether he thinks James should be confirmed by the Senate, he said, “There’s not a lot available in terms of information on positions she’s taken. Now, I do not believe it is necessary for someone to have served in the Air Force or any other service to be the secretary of the Air Force. I think it’s helpful if they have served but I don’t think it is necessary for them to have served.”

Deborah Lee James, President Obama's nominee for Air Force secretary.

“I think the key question is: What are her capabilities?” said Boykin. “Does she have the leadership skills to be able to be the secretary of the Air Force at a very critical time when we’re dealing with so many issues? And, furthermore, does she put national security as a first priority? And if the answer to both of those is yes, then all other things being equal, I see no reason why she shouldn’t be confirmed.”

“My biggest concern is where she stands on religious liberty in the military because the Air Force has a particularly egregious problem right now,” said Boykin, who served in the Army for 36 years, commanded all the Green Berets, and was one of the original members of Delta Force.

Concerning what the senators should ask James, Boykin said, “We want to know if she would be an advocate for allowing military members to live their faith, not just to believe in certain things. And, we think that there’s right now a problem in the Air Force where we see the constant infringements on those liberties. “

“So, I would want to know, and we’ve articulated it in the questions that we sent over [to the committee], suggesting that they be asked, I want to know that she is committed to allowing members of the Air Force to live their faith as long as it doesn’t infringe on the Constitution, nor on the rights of others,” said Boykin.

James earned a B.A. degree from Duke University and a M.A. from Columbia University.  If confirmed, she would replace former Air Force Secretary Michael Donley, who retired in June. The current acting Air Force secretary is Eric Fanning, the highest ranking openly homosexual in the Defense Department.

Eric Fanning, acting secretary of the U.S. Air Force and openly homosexual. (US Air Force)

Fanning worked on the House Armed Services Committee (1991-93) for part of the time that Deborah Lee James was there (1983-93), and he served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (1993-96) for part of the time that James was assistant secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs (1993-98).

Fanning worked briefly in the Clinton White House in 1996 and at CBS News in 1997-98.  In 2004-2007, Fanning served on the board of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. According to the Washington Blade, Fanning contributes to LGBT causes, including Scouts for Equality, “the organization that led the way for the Boy Scouts to approve a resolution ending its ban on gay youth.”    Fanning supports having openly transgender people serve in the military, although they are not allowed to do so at this time.

When asked Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Boykin whether he thought Fanning’s tenure so far as acting secretary had hurt the Air Force in any way, he said, “During his tenure we’ve had at least two pretty significant events that occurred, one of which is with a Sergeant Philip Monk down at Lackland Air Force Base, where he was directed by his commander to answer a question indicating that he supported same-sex marriage, even though according to his faith, he could not answer that truthfully saying that he did [support same-sex marriage].”

M. Sgt. Phillip Monk was relieved of his duty and is now charged with violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice because of an incident in which he refused to punish an instructor who expressed religious objections to homosexuality. (Photo: Fox News).

“That was one of the incidents,” said Boykin.  “It’s ongoing right now, being investigated, and he has, in fact, been relieved of all his duties because he would not tell his commander that he supported same-sex marriage.”

The general continued, “There was another incident of an Air Force reservist who wrote a letter, an email actually, to a chaplain at West Point, and this was before the Supreme Court decision on DOMA, saying that West Point had violated the Defense of Marriage Act by allowing a same-sex marriage in the chapel at West Point. And he was also disciplined by the Air Force: His reenlistment, which he had just signed for six years, was reduced to a one-year contract.”

“So this was a reprisal, a retribution against him for standing on his faith,” said Boykin, “and there have been some other incidents that were also associated with Christians being able to actually exercise their faith and speak about their faith and this occurred on [Secretary] Fanning’s watch. So, the facts are the facts.”

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