Americans United has called on Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to fire a top-ranking Pentagon official who has repeatedly told evangelical Christian audiences that the U.S. struggle against terrorism is a religious conflict against Satan.
In a series of speeches at church gatherings, Gen. William G. "Jerry" Boykin, who recently was named deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, said the United States is being attacked because we are a Christian nation, insisted that Muslims worship idols and said the real enemy of America is not Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein, but Satan.
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, said, "Boykin literally believes that the United States government is engaged in a holy war. That's totally unacceptable for someone in a top government post.
"A man who sees the conduct of U.S. foreign policy as some sort of Christian religious crusade should not be making policy. I urge Secretary Rumsfeld to remove Lt. Gen. Boykin from his post and distance the Bush administration from Boykin's extreme views."
According to reports aired on NBC News and in the Los Angeles Times, Boykin has repeatedly appeared before evangelical Christian groups, often in uniform, and characterized the U.S. war with terrorism in stark religious terms.
In a June appearance in Oregon, Boykin reportedly said that Islamic extremists hate the U.S. "because we're a Christian nation, because our foundations and our roots are Judeo-Christian." Boykin said the real enemy is not Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden.
"The enemy," he said, "is a guy called Satan."
In another speech, Boykin suggested that President George W. Bush took office due to divine intervention.
"The majority of Americans did not vote for him," said Boykin. "Why is he there? He's in the White House because God put him there for a time such as this."
Boykin has drawn the greatest heat for his remarks about Islam. In a January speech in Daytona, Fla., Boykin recalled his efforts to capture an Islamic militant in Somalia who had said he would be protected by Allah.
Boykin told the crowd "I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol" and note that after the militant, Osman Ato, was captured, Boykin told him, "You underestimated our God."
Boykin later issued a statement saying that by "idol," he meant not Ato's worship of Allah "but his worship of money and power; idolatry."
But The Washington Post, in an Oct. 19 editorial, pointed out that the explanation simply did not wash.
The paper quoted from the speech, noting that Bokyin said, "He [Ato] went on CNN and he laughed at us, and he said, 'They'll never get me because Allah will protect me. Allah will protect me.' 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.' Gen. Boykin says that when Mr. Ato was captured three days later, the general went into Ato's cell and delivered a message: 'Mr. Ato, you underestimated our God.'"
In his statement, Boykin apologized to anyone who may have taken offense, insisting, "I am not anti-Islam or any other religion. I support the free exercise of all religions." Boykin also insisted, "I have frequently stated that I do not see this current conflict as a war between Islam and Christianity." He also promised to curtail his speech making.
In an Oct. 19 interview with ABC News, Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser, said Bush does not share Boykin's views but gave no indication that the general would be reassigned, as some U.S. Muslim groups have requested. Officials at the Pentagon say they are investigating Boykin's remarks.
This is not Boykin's only venture into inappropriate religious activity.
Earlier this year, Americans United protested strongly when Boykin tried to bring a Baptist pastors' evangelism group to Ft. Bragg for special training and overnight accommodations. After the AU protest, military officials scaled back the visit to the same level given other civilian groups.