As speculation grows that Mark Green, President Trump's pick for Army secretary, may drop out, supporters say the Tennessee state lawmaker and devout Christian is being targeted for his religious beliefs.
Several liberal groups and lawmakers are calling for Green to withdraw, accusing him of homophobia, Islamophobia and transphobia due to his past remarks. But those who know him say Green is a victim of groups who want to tear down those who are religious, especially those supported by Trump.
"I've been called a racist," said Monica Youngblood, a Christian conservative state lawmaker in New Mexico who is also a Latina. "We see these things and the way that they play out and it turns into a form of censorship."
Youngblood, who got to know Green through a conservative political action committee, said the outcry against his nomination is part of wider effort by liberals to scuttle any Trump nominee, but also a move to silence his Christian beliefs, such as his opposition to gay marriage.
Green, while speaking to an audience last year, urged the Tennessee governor to ignore a Supreme Court ruling and stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses.
"I think it is a valid remark to make and I don't see it as being homophobic at all," Youngblood said. "As a Christian, we read the Bible in a certain way and that's how we view it."
Green began facing criticism almost immediately after he was chosen to be the top Army civilian in early April. LGBT and Muslim advocacy groups pored over videos of his speeches posted online, finding instances of him claiming psychiatrists consider transgenderism a disease, transgender bathroom rights could traumatize female rape victims, and that Tennessee should not tolerate the teaching of Islam in schools.
His nomination, which has still not been sent to the Senate, seemed to enter a critical phase this week after the No. 2 House Democrat called Green's past statements "disgusting," and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., whose Armed Services Committee will have a key role in any confirmation, said that he also had concerns. On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., came out against his confirmation.
"I think there is a movement to target people of faith that are being nominated," Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally told the Washington Examiner. "They want their own, either agnostics or people who are non-Christian. They being the national Democratic Party."
McNally, who is also the senate leader in Nashville, said Green is "middle-right" within the state political spectrum. He is Republican to the core and very religious, McNally said. Many of the comments that have gotten Green into hot water related to recent national political debates over gay and transgender rights and tracked closely with conservatives' views in states such as Tennessee and North Carolina.
McNally denied claims Green has a history of homophobia and transphobia.
"It's typical trash that they try to bring up," he said.
Green never made a secret of his devout religious faith in his many appearances as a state legislator.
"I look at life sometimes as a believer in Christ, sometimes as a leader in a church but a believer of Christ, and sometimes as, I'm a CEO of healthcare company, so I put that hat on, but I'm still a believer in Christ, and then I'm a state senator," Green told a church group in 2015.
Retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, an executive vice president at the Family Research Council, said Green has had the courage to stand up in a politically correct environment and state his religious views.
"I don't think there is any question that he is being targeted for his Christian faith," he said.
Meanwhile, Green, as a former soldier and Army surgeon, has great qualifications to be secretary and is a candidate who already understands troops, Boykin said.
"What would you expect [in qualifications] that is not already present there?" he said. "It's time for somebody to step forward and say, 'I support this man.' "