Like most people, I like to give addvice. Sometimes it is even unsolicited. Since my wife and I are now official "empty nesdters," I have fewer opdpordtunities to give such advice to members of the immediate family. Therefore, I have expanded my advising universe to prominent government officials.
Sometimes they listen, sometimes they do not. In the past few weeks, for example, a Supreme Court justice did the right thing (by my standards), but the Secretary of Defense did not heed my suggestion.
As everyone knows, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a controversial case involving whether public schools can require teachers to lead students in the post-1954 version of the Pledge of Alledgdiance containing the words "under God."
Earlier this year, conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was speaking at a Knights of Columbus rally in Fredericksburg, Va., and noticed a man in the crowd with a "Get Religion Out of Government" sign. Scalia, no shrinking violet, commented that if you wanted to get "under God" out of the Pledge you should change it by democratic vote. This followed comments a few minutes earlier suggesting that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was wrong in finding a constitutional infirmity in the current Pledge's religious loyalty oath.
Now, Supreme Court justices are not supposed to announce their opinions on matters that could come before the court, and clearly the Pledge case had all the hallmarks of taking such a track. Justice Scalia had effectively signaled his vote on the case even before the papers were filed. We immediately issued a statement urging him to recuse himself from any participation in that case should it arrive on his desk, and in fact noted that he seemed to have prejudged all religion cases and should opt out of all future controversies. (OK, it was a long shot; but it never hurts to ask.)
This led to a great deal of comment on various legal websites at the time. To Justice Scalia's credit, he has announced that he will indeed sit out the Pledge case. I don't often agree with Justice Scalia, but this time I think he made the right move and should be commended for it.
That same week another person we have been following for some time, Lt. Gen. William Boykin of the U.S. Army, hit the news in a big way. Earlier this year, we had successfully gotten the Army to scale back a special event Boykin was planning to hold for Baptist preachers at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
Boykin had quite a treat lined up for the pastors. They were going to stay overnight on the base, see things there that the public is generally not permitted to visit and enjoy "informal time" with the general. AU's complaint put the kibosh on much of that.
We had no reason to believe we would cross paths with the general again. However, Boykin was quietly approved by the Senate this summer as Underdsecretary of Defense for Intellidgence, a key role in the
His comments were incredibly inappropriate. Boykin told the First Baptist Church in Broken Arrow, Okla., that Osama bin Laden is not the real enemy and "the enemy that has come against our nation is a spiritual enemy. His name is Satan." Later, in Sandy, Ore., Boykin announced that Muslim terrorists hate us so much "because we're a Christian nation..." He also told a Daytona, Fla., audience that he was able to capture a notorious terrorist in
Gen. Boykin has all the right in the world to believe whatever he wants about the validity of his faith and that of others. Technically, he may not have violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice even when his in-uniform comments directly conflicted with the Commander in Chief's persistent efforts not to characterize Middle East conflict as pitting Christians against Muslims. However, the actions were unconscionable, divisive and downright dangerous. His words appeared in newspapers around the Arab world within days as living embodiments of the claims of bin Laden and other extremists that the
We urged Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to immediately transfer Boykin. Rumsfeld declined to take my advice as Religious Right leaders circled the wagons around Boykin's "free speech" rights as if they were suddenly the world's greatest civil libertarians.
Our military leaders are supposed to preserve the peace and, failing that, to win wars. It is not their job to evangelize the American people nor to orchestrate a crusade against people of different religious traditions. Yes, the general has attempted to "clarify" his comments, but it is too late. His disdain for faiths other than his own has been recorded for posterity. It will be heard in the terrorist training camps of those who are trying to convince a new generation that the
I can only hope that Rumsfeld will take a tip from Justice Scalia and realize that sometimes that Lynn fellow's advice is actually worth taking.
Barry W. Lynn is executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.