Military Atheists Demand West Point Disinvite General Boykin
In an interesting bit of timing, several groups have decried the decision by West Point to invite retired LtGen William Boykin, author of Never Surrender, to their National Prayer Breakfast on February 8th. The self-described “progressive” VoteVets.org wrote to West Point Superintendent LtGen David Huntoon saying
You may not be aware of Lieutenant General Boykin’s history of extremist and hateful comments towards Islam…
These remarks are incompatible with the Army values, and a person who is incompatible with Army values should not address the cadets of the United States Military Academy.
Where have we heard similar cries before? Ah, yes: The claim Franklin Graham was an “Islamophobe” and therefore an inappropriate speaker at a similar event at the Pentagon. The critics won that one, and Graham’s invitation was rescinded based on his prior speech, not on what he might have said if he had been allowed to attend. Tony Perkins was “disinvited” for his public comments that were wholly unrelated to his event, as well. Likewise, Michael Weinstein demanded the US Air Force Academy rescind an invitation to Clebe McClary last year because he was the ‘wrong kind’ of Christian, apparently failing to meet Weinstein’s strict standards of what a Christian should do and say. Weinstein lost that one, and McClary went on to speak on overcoming adversity.
For now, it seems the activists are losing this one as well. West Point has so far stood by its decision:
“The U.S. Military Academy at West Point prepares 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 National Prayer Breakfast Service will be pluralistic with Christians, 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,” said the statement from public affairs director Lt. Col Sherri Reed.
A few West Point cadets have commented on both sides of the debate, with one saying West Point is “heavily influenced by religious bigots.”
Jason Torpy, a former Army captain and an atheist, joined the chorus in criticizing Boykin’s upcoming attendance:
MAAF supports efforts of VoteVets against a West Point prayer breakfast appearance by Dominionist retired general Boykin…
Michael Weinstein was more blunt (and vague) [formatting original]:
This is an OUTRAGE – I will not rest until this invitation is rescinded!!!
Given Weinstein’s history with McClary, there’s likely little reason to be concerned about Weinstein’s posturing. Still, LtGen Boykin might want to take notice. Weinstein — the same man who decries threats of violence against himself — has previously said he wants to beat LtGen Boykin with a baseball bat.
It seems several groups are teed up to try to prevent the US military from inviting people to speak to military audiences if they’ve previously said something critical of another religion.
Except when the speakers are atheists.
Just a few days ago it was pointed out that military atheists are trying to have speakers and singers at their event, Rock Beyond Belief, who have previously made “extremist and hateful comments” toward Christianity, Islam, or religion in general. (Weinstein is not only defending that event with threats of lawsuits, he’s also one of the speakers.) In fact, the thematic connection of these events was actually made by a West Point cadet, who said
why don’t we have Richard Dawkins, Justin Griffith, Dan Barker or Ellen Johnson speaking in [Boykin’s] stead?
Fascinating question. Just like the prayer breakfasts, Rock Beyond Belief is sponsored by military members, and in both cases invitations to the controversial speakers have come from military members. None of the activists — Jason Torpy, VoteVets.org, Chris Rodda, Michael Weinstein — have called on Fort Bragg to “ban” speakers from the atheist event for their “religiophobic” views, while they have opposed Christians for their views. It even seems the West Point cadet who criticized Boykin’s invitation didn’t see the irony of suggesting an invitation to someone like Richard Dawkins.
VoteVets.org makes no claims of government endorsement or a violation of the Constitution, as Weinstein often does. They are apparently concerned about Boykin’s mere presence and the fact malleable cadets will have the ability to voluntarily listen to him speak:
It is counterproductive for our future Army leaders to hear the views of LTG Boykin… [emphasis added]
So-called watchdogs who criticize religious beliefs with which they disagree, while ignoring ideologically identical activities on the parts of those with whom they agree, are hypocrites advocating the government enforce a double-standard. As this site has already stated:
Michael Weinstein’s suggestion the military should screen the religious views of its invitees for potential offense of other religions would have a chilling effect on religious freedom in the military…This would restrict not only the obvious Abrahamic religions, but also atheists — particularly given the recent rise in popularity of vocal critics of religion. [emphasis added]
That’s predicated, of course, on ignoring the cultural debate over whether atheism is a religion. The military has generally held that expressions of religious tenets are acceptable within certain contexts, even if they are otherwise offensive, as a consequence of the human liberty of religious freedom protected by the US Constitution. It is more challenging to use the same defense when one has no religious tenets but still wants to make statements deemed offensive.
So: Should Franklin Graham, Clebe McClary, Richard Dawkins, Aiden, and William Boykin all be treated “equally,” independent of the ideology from which they speak?
It seems the MRFF, MAAF, and VoteVets have already made their decision. Have you?