WASHINGTON -- Liberal and religious freedom groups claimed victory on Monday night when Lt. Gen. William Boykin, famous for his strident anti-Muslim speeches, pulled out of a planned Feb. 8th appearance at West Point as part of the National Day of Prayer.
Boykin is best known for giving explicitly religious speeches while in uniform, telling an audience in 2003 of a Somalian warlord that "I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol." Bokyin retired from active duty in 2007 and has continued giving anti-Islam speeches, frequently calling Islam a "totalitarian way of life" and questioning the eligibility of Muslims for protection under the Constitution.
"I’m glad that the cadets will not be forced to hear the words of an anti-Muslim general whose rhetoric does not align with the values of our military and also endangers our troops in combat," said Jon Soltz, the founder of liberal veterans' group Vote Vets.
Vote Vets was the first organization to call for the cancellation of Boykin's speech. Soltz and the group's vice president, Richard Allen Smith, wrote a letter to West Point last Thursday arguing that "the presence of LTG Boykin at West Point would violate Army Values" because of his "history of extremist and hateful comments towards Islam," citing the service of American Muslims in the military during the post-9/11 era.
They were quickly joined by other groups, including the Council on American Islamic Relations and the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers, both of which released statements in support of canceling the speech.
The scheduled speech also sparked controversy at West Point itself. The academy administration backed Boykin, telling ThinkProgress that they were "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."
But a group of cadets and faculty angered by the planned speech held a conference call on Friday night with Mikey Weinstein, head of the the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. One professor, a combat veteran, wrote to Weinstein saying that the invitation was at odds with the Army's mission of "making it clear that Americans are NOT Christian crusaders who hate Muslims."
Weinstein stressed to The Huffington Post that the vast majority of his 101 clients at West Point were practicing Protestants and Catholics. "Most of our clients are Christians being told that they're not Christian enough," he said.
Vote Vets and other groups stepped up the pressure by appealing to Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army Chief of Staff and former top commander in Iraq, in writing on Monday. While Boykin did not comment on the reasons for his withdrawal, he canceled the appearance later that day.