At West Point’s prayer breakfast, no room for hate

They’ve done it again. This time the notorious retired Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin was invited to speak at the … Continued

They’ve done it again. This time the notorious retired Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin was invited to speak at the annual National Prayer Breakfast Service at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. This is the very same Boykin who was involved in the ill-fated Iranian Hostage rescue mission and the firefight in Somalia made famous in “Black Hawk Down” Boykin made fun of an adversary for believing he would be protected by Allah. Said Boykin: “I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol.”

There’s more. He has claimed that the war was against Muslim radicals in a Christian struggle against Satan. He also opined that there should be “no mosques in America,” that “Islam is a totalitarian way of life, it’s not just a religion, ” that Islam “should not be protected under the first amendment.” He has said that “there is no greater threat to America than Islam,” and in a study he co-authored, “most mosques in the United States already have been radicalized, that most Muslim social organizations are fronts for jihadists.”

How could this happen? It has only been two years since Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, was invited to speak at a National Day of Prayer event at the Pentagon. Granted he was the son of the famous evangelist and an evangelist himself. Unfortunately, Graham had called Islam “a very evil wicked religion.” Later he would say, “Do they want to indoctrinate me? Yes. I know about Islam. I don’t need an education from Islam. If people think Islam is such a wonderful religion, just go to Saudi Arabia and make it your home.”

Shortly after his remarks became an issue in the press, the Pentagon rescinded Graham’s invitation.

Now some genius has decided it would be a great idea to have Boykin speak at West Point next week. A spokeswoman at West Point, Lt. Col. Sherri Reed, would only issue a statement to the Washington Post. “The U.S. Military Academy at West Point prepared cadets to be leaders of character with honor and consideration of others. In order to produce effective 21st century leaders for our Army, and our Nation, cadets are purposefully exposed to different perspectives and cultures over the course of their 47-month experience at West Point.”

The statement continued, “The National Prayer Breakfast Service will be pluralistic with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim cadets participating. We are comfortable and confident that what retired Lt. Gen. Boykin will share about prayer, soldier care and selfless service, will be in keeping with the broad range of ideas normally considered by our cadets.”

Reed would not speak to me about Boykin but later issued the following advisory:

“LTG (Ret) William Boykin has decided to withdraw speaking at West Point’s National Prayer Breakfast on 8 February, 2012. In fulfilling his commitment to the community, the United States Military Academy will feature another speaker for the event.”

That was it. No explanation.

What happened to the comfort and confidence? Suddenly the “different perspectives and cultures” and a “broad range of ideas” from Boykin didn’t seem quite as in keeping with West Point’s goal of “preparing cadets to be leaders of character with honor and consideration of others.”

Could it be that the uproar over the choice of Boykin had something to do with the cancellation?

Could it be that Boykin’s hateful comments, if said about Christians or Jews, would not have led to an invitation to speak?

Could it be that because there are graves at Arlington National Cemetery with Crescents on them depicting Muslim soldiers who have died for our country, somebody felt that having Boykin speak would not be well received by Muslim cadets, or other Americans?

Could it be that he was removed because Gen. David Petraeus, now CIA director but previously commander of forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, has made it very clear that we must build and maintain trust in Muslim communities here and abroad? When the Koran was burned last year, Petraeus said that it “would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan – and around the world – to inflame public opinion and incite violence” and that “such images could, in fact … put our troops and civilians in jeopardy and undermine our efforts.”

Could it be that the Military Religious Freedom Foundation says it has had complaints from 27 faculty members and 74 cadets about Boykin since the invitation, all but seven from Protestants or Catholics? According to MRFF, one faculty member, who asked to be anonymous for fear of being reprimanded, said, “The true price to be exacted, by granting this high-profile speaking engagement to the bigot Boykin, will shamefully be paid in blood, and the blood of innocents.”

What was shocking to me was that West Point, and in fact the U.S. military, is supposed to be about camaraderie, teamwork, cohesiveness. Yet this problem of religious bigotry runs rampant against non-evangelical Christians in the academies.

My father went to West Point. He too was a lieutenant general. He was also a conservative Republican and devout Christian. He decried those in the military who tried to impose their religious beliefs on those below them. He had a zero-tolerance policy against it.

Where is that zero-tolerance policy against bigotry now? Who invited Boykin to speak at West Point? When the superintendent, Lt. General David H. Huntoon, found out about it, why didn’t he cancel the address immediately instead of waiting until there was a media firestorm? Why didn’t anyone in the Pentagon demand that it be cancelled instead of referring reporters back to West Point for comment?

When Boykin made his infamous remarks, he was still in the military and was reprimanded.

That’s not good enough here. Somebody at West Point made a terrible mistake. A mistake that could have, in fact, cost lives, if the general had been allowed to speak in this incendiary religious climate. The “advisory” says nothing of an apology, not to the cadets and faculty of West Point, not to Muslims serving in the military, not to Muslim Americans, the American people or Muslims everywhere.

The person who allowed this to happen, whether it be the superintendent or someone else, should go. And on his or her way out, that person should have the “character and honor and consideration of others” to say, “I’m sorry.”

Oh, and another thing: I’d like to suggest that the replacement speaker be a Muslim.


Sally Quinn Sally Quinn is the founding editor of OnFaith.
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