Think Progress and other news outlets are reporting that Retired Lt. General William Boykin has “pulled out” as the featured speaker for the National Prayer Breakfast at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Gen. Boykin and West Point have both taken heat for his participation from cadets, veterans, and other groups due to his Islamophobic rhetoric. He has some kooky opinions about President Barack Obama as well.
If Lt. General Boykin has decided to pull out of his volition, then that is obviously his decision. However, several liberal news outlets and activist groups pushed to oust Boykin as the featured speaker. If this led West Point to in turn push Boykin to bow out, I think it is a bad idea.
We liberals and progressives largely define ourselves by our openness to a wide variety of ideas and opinions. We cannot let ourselves be threatened by Constitutionally protected speech, especially when that speech is ugly and unpopular. Setting up some kind of open forum around the speech allowing cadets to debate–which Boykin most certainly would have sparked–is one thing. A good thing. So is making attendees aware of Boykin’s previous statements and issues while still in uniform prior to the speech. Stymieing that speech is another thing entirely and I’m not so sunny on that.
Let people go into the speech with some context and perspective and hear what he has to say. If we can’t do that, even on the left, winning this battle to get him out of the speech means nothing. We’ve already lost the war.
(Coat of arms image from: http://www.fighterpilotsusa.com/Portals/0/fpusaimages/west_point_coat_of_arms.jpg. William Boykin image from: http://www.freedomcongress.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Boykin-Headshot-Lower-Rez.jpg)