In January 2012, Boykin canceled a keynote speech he was scheduled to give at a prayer breakfast at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. That was after a veterans’ advocacy group, Votevets.org, asked the Army chief of staff to rescind Boykin’s invitation because his “remarks are incompatible with the Army values,” VoteVets chairman Jon Soltz wrote at that time.
Since then, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and other groups, including civil liberties activists from the ACLU and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, have protested Boykin’s invitations and appearances at similar events.
“While Mr. Boykin has the right to hold extremist anti-Muslim views, his un-American bigotry should not receive the endorsement of elected officials who serve citizens of all faiths,” said Arsalan Bukhari, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations for Washington, based in Seattle.
Roger Button and James Autry, organizers of this 13th annual local prayer breakfast via the Full Gospel Men’s Fellowship in America, did not respond to calls from The Columbian on Monday.
Leavitt did in midafternoon, and said he’d just been reading up on Boykin, with whom he had not been familiar.
“Some of the stuff I’m reading is a little disturbing,” Leavitt said. “I’m a bit struck that he was selected.” Leavitt said Boykin’s “intolerance” doesn’t square with what he believes the prayer breakfast is all about: “Bringing together people of all different faiths and religions,” he said.
“I see I have several emails from citizens, inquiring about my participation in the event and asking me to reconsider,” Leavitt said.
But he intends to go through with the breakfast, he said, which normally requires little from the host mayor except brief introductions. Leavitt said he’s considering speaking out a bit more pointedly.
“I’m committed to this; it’s an obligation,” he said. “If I do offer any personal commentary, it’ll be out of the ordinary for the event. I’ll represent what’s in the best interests of our community. That appears to be somewhat contrary” to Boykins’ statements, he said.
Leavitt added that he had not been planning to stay through the whole event, and he will not. “I’m not going to stick around to hear what (Boykin) has to say,” he said.
Earlier this month, People for the American Way, a liberal-leaning think tank, posted segments of a recent videotaped interview with Boykin, where he says the fast birth rate of Muslim immigrants in Europe means that continent is “hopelessly lost.” He adds: “It is a very serious issue, which is why Americans need to have more babies and populate this country with red-blooded patriotic Americans.”
Boykin goes on to state his belief that President Barack Obama has attended a Christian church for convenience, but his “identity is more with Islam than with anything else. And I think that all goes back to his roots, to the fact that he was raised in an Islamic environment.” In another interview, he says Obama has surrounded himself with “hard-core Marxists.”
Obama attended Catholic and secular public schools while living for four years in Indonesia, from ages 6 to 10. Then he returned to Hawaii, the state where he was born.
“Islam is not just a religion. It’s a totalitarian way of life. It should not be protected under the First Amendment, particularly given that those following the dictates of the Quran are under an obligation to destroy our Constitution and replace it with Sharia law,” Boykin says in a different video, recorded recently for a conservative Christian political movement called The Oak Initiative.
In yet another interview, Boykin declares: “No mosques in America.”
On Oct. 11, the Washington chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations issued a statement urging local mayors not to host Boykin.
“He has a track record,” said Bukhari. “This is not a one-time thing or a two-time thing. He has a long track record of making really inflammatory, incendiary comments.” Bukhari said he’s been surprised to learn that Boykin continues to get invitations to speak at civic events like this one, even after the West Point controversy and similar problems. “Sounds like they’re second-guessing West Point,” he said.
It’s not just that Boykin’s statements are “offensive and inflammatory,” Bukhari added — it’s that they are factually incorrect and genuinely harmful to American Muslims. Polling has shown that the American public’s opinion of Islam has “worsened significantly” since 2005, and that the FBI has found that anti-Muslim hate crimes “remain at high levels,” he said.
Research has also shown that inflammatory rhetoric whips up hatred and prejudice in the general population, he said.
Bukhari pointed to research by such firms as Gallup and Pew that show that American Muslims are racially diverse and generally middle class, that they support democracy and don’t support terrorism or violence, and that they support the U.S. Constitution and are not trying to replace it or the court system with Sharia law.
Earlier this year, a second annual alternative prayer breakfast was held by a small group of Clark County’s liberal-leaning religious congregations. That event was pointedly “interfaith,” hosted by Jewish group Congregation Kol Ami, and included Clark County’s only Muslim group, the Islamic Society of Southwest Washington.
“You would think the only religious voices in Clark County are right-wing voices,” Kol Ami’s Rabbi Elizabeth Dunkser said at the time. “That’s why we got this started, to pull together some other voices.”
It’s estimated that there are between somewhere 2.35 million and 8 million Muslims in America, with as many as 20,000 serving in the U.S. armed forces.