Aug 18, 2004

The Defense Department would be wrong to exonerate an Army general who sparked international ire for describing the U.S. war on terrorism as a Christian battle against Satan, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

According to today's Washington Post, a Defense Department report recommends that the Acting Secretary of the Army find Gen. William G. Boykin, who is now a high-ranking military intelligence official, guilty of minor internal regulations, such as failing to get clearance for his frequent comments before churches and making sure his audiences understood that he was speaking in a personal capacity. The report has not been made public, but was obtained by the newspaper.

The Post's article quotes a "senior Defense official" as calling the report a "complete exoneration" of Boykin and that it is likely the general will only be held responsible for "relatively minor offenses."

"We are concerned that the Defense Department is not taking this case seriously," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "General Boykin's conduct was utterly outrageous and should not be treated lightly."

In October 2003, Americans United urged Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to fire Boykin. Only months earlier in April, AU had sent a letter to the Secretary of the Army protesting Boykin's endorsement of a Southern Baptist evangelism program and his use of an army base and its personnel to host and promote the ministry.

Boykin's frequent speeches before churches and prayer breakfasts nationwide drew worldwide attention when they were brought to light in fall 2003. Boykin spoke about his involvement in the war on terrorism at 23 religious events since early 2002. According to the Post, he wore his uniform at all but two.

In a speech in Daytona, Fla., Boykin recalled his efforts to capture an Islamic militant in Somalia who boasted that Allah would protect him from Americans. Boykin said, "Well, you know what I knew, that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol."

During a speech before a congregation in Oregon, he declared that he was leading a "spiritual battle" against Satan. He told the congregation that Islamic extremists hate the U.S. "because we're a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christian."

Boykin was roundly criticized by political leaders worldwide and his comments only added to perceptions held by many in the Middle East of an American-led war against Islam. A gaggle of Religious Right groups and their congressional allies has come out in support of Boykin. And although President George W. Bush sought to distance his administration from Boykin's remarks, Rumsfeld praised the general's "outstanding record" and refused to suspend him from office during the defense department's investigation.

Lynn said that the administration should remove Boykin from office.

"The general should not be in a top policy-making position," said Lynn. "This initial report from the Defense Department is troubling because it suggests Boykin will not be held fully accountable for his inflammatory actions."

Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.