WEST POINT, N.Y. (Christian Examiner) – The former head of the military's Special Operations Command, Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, is heading up a petition drive to ask the superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to allow its cadet football players to kneel for post-game prayers of thanksgiving, if they so desire.
The practice has been common at many schools, but only recently drew attention at West Point. Two weeks ago, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) filed a complaint against the head football coach at West Point after a video of the coach asking his players to pray went public.
Following the team's hard fought and surprise win over Temple in Philadelphia Sept. 3, Coach Jeff Monken asked the cadet football players to take a knee and then asked another member of the staff to pray for the team. MRFF's Mikey Weinstein – who frequently warns of "Christian triumphalism" and Christian plots to take over the military – said the prayer was unconstitutional.
Weinstein said the video of the prayer had been viewed more than 230,000 times and shared more than 2,000 times via social media. He also told Army Times that he had been contacted by 44 academy graduates, 40 West Point staffers, and six of the football players seeking assistance on the matter.
According to the military newspaper, Weinstein phoned West Point Superintendent Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen to complain that the coach had chosen "the wrong time, the wrong place and the wrong manner" to pray with the athletes.
"He can't tell anybody, 'put your hand on someone and let's pray.' You can't do it, particularly when you're the head coach (of a public school)," Weinstein told the paper.
Boykin, now executive vice president with the Family Research Council, said he did not believe the coach was wrong to celebrate in prayer with the team. He also said he is concerned that the academy is overly worried about political correctness instead of focusing on the goal of the institution.
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"I am concerned that instead of instilling leadership or imparting warfighting skill, our U.S. military apparatus is now focusing on editing out the religious practices of its cadets," Boykin wrote in a letter to FRC's constituents.
"This is just one more example of the growing track record in the Obama military to eradicate the practice of Christianity among our brave service men and women," he also wrote.
Boykin, though he did not name Weinstein, said West Point officials were more concerned with listening to the "endless complaining of those who want our warriors to be stripped of their most precious armor – their faith." He then asked FRC supporters to sign a petition to Lt. Gen. Caslen which asks the general to allow the players to pray after a game.
"West Point is one of America's respected institutions, and should never become a pawn in the hands of anti-faith activists who attack the faith of our nation's warriors and future warriors," the petition reads.
As of Sept. 16, more than 25,000 people had signed the petition.
Boykin, one of the founding members of Delta Force, is a frequent target of Weinstein's activist group. In July, the retired general was scheduled to speak at a prayer breakfast at Fort Riley, Kansas, but Weinstein fired off a letter demanding that the base's commander rescind the invitation. Weinstein alleged Boykin was anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-LGBT and spoke ill of President Barack Obama. The event was cancelled.
In another instance, Weinstein said Boykin has a "grotesque conception of Jesus Christ. Most (non-fundamentalist) Christians practice their faith in a manner that holds aloft the treasured values of love, peace, and good will towards their fellow humans. Boykin ... will have none of that. Instead, Boykin's avatar is a ravenously militant and militaristic one – a deity of universal destruction, bloodshed, rabid bigotry and unadulterated hatred."
Weinstein was referencing what some have considered Boykin's theologically sketchy address to David Barton's Wallbuilders' Pro-Family Legislators Conference in 2014.
"The Lord is a warrior and in Revelation 19 it says when he comes back he's coming as what? A warrior – a mighty warrior leading a mighty army, riding a white horse with a blood-stained white robe ... I believe that blood on that robe is the blood of his enemies because he's coming back as a warrior carrying a sword. And I believe now - I've checked this out - I believe that sword he'll be carrying when he comes back is an AR-15," Boykin told the crowd.
Weinstein said Boykin was not joking, but illustrating his conception of "Genghis Christ."