OCEAN CITY – Yesterday’s Annual Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast went off without a hitch, despite the controversy surrounding this year’s invited guest speaker.
Over the last week, several organizations and individuals have reached out to the Mayor and City Council protesting this year’s Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast speaker, retired Lt. General William “Jerry” Boykin.
People For The American Way President Michael Keegan wrote a letter to Mayor Rick Meehan stating that there is another side to Boykin that should be made known before he appears at an event that reflects upon the Ocean City community.
In 2003, Boykin made headlines over a series of controversial remarks he made while in uniform and representing the country. He was investigated by the Defense Department and found to have violated multiple regulations. “Now retired, Boykin’s speeches frequently delve into hate-filled conspiracy theories … he claims that President Obama is creating a Hitler-style militia to force Marxism on the American people, and that international bankers are plotting to form a Marxist, global government,” Keegan wrote. Keegan continued to explain that Boykin has reserved his greatest scorn for Muslims and Islam.
“He has argued that Muslims are not protected by the First Amendment and that there should be no mosques in America,” Keegan wrote. “He has also revealed a profound ignorance of Islam by claiming that it is not an Abrahamic religion and has nothing in common with Christianity.” Keegan concluded that hosting Boykin at the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast will send the wrong message to the community, especially since Ocean City works hard to maintain a fun, family-friendly reputation.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) also called upon Meehan to reconsider Boykin’s invitation, despite the fact the mayor has nothing to do with the annual event.
In his letter to Meehan, CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper expressed that it would be a discredit to the mayor’s office and a disservice to the citizens of Ocean City for Boykin to speak at the event.
"We question the appropriateness of this choice for an official event, given Boykin’s long, shameful history of extreme and bigoted views … We respectfully ask whether any taxpayer funds are being spent on this year’s Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, and how your office plans to address the appearance of an official endorsement of Boykin’s extremist views,” Hooper wrote.
Auburn Theological Seminary President Rev. Dr. Katharine Henderson in New York City also issued a statement regarding Boykin’s scheduled appearance.
"Our nation is stronger when we place these sorts of attacks on American Muslims out of bounds,” she said. “A prayer breakfast should be a time for celebrating our shared religious and faith commitments to the dignity of all people, not an opportunity to spout hateful rhetoric about millions of American citizens…”
On Tuesday, event organizer Bruce Spangler said that the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast would carry on as planned.
“This man is going to give his personal testimony and that is what has happened for the last 23 years,” Spangler said. “People get up there and … they talk about what the Lord has done in their life, and that is what he is going to talk about.”
Meehan added that the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast has been in existence for the administration of three mayors and he has attended practically every event. He has found the event to be a focal point for the community to gather together to join in on an uplifting experience, and he doesn’t expect this year to be any different.
“All of the speakers that have been there in the past have talked about their experience with God and how it has helped them or uplifted them and I think that is the same message we are going to here from Boykin,” he said.
Meehan said that the concerns that have been expressed are being taken into consideration and the town has been assured that Boykin will be respectful of all.
The mayor noted that Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast is a private event and is not put on or sponsored by the city. The mayor is an invited guest and is there to welcome guests, particularly local elected officials, and then hands it over.
“So even though it has the name the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, I am an invited guest just like everybody else,” Meehan said.
Spangler and Meehan both disclosed that they were not aware of the controversy surrounding Boykin in the past.
The Ocean City Police Department has followed up by looking into three or four of Boykin’s most recent appearances at different venues.
“There were no problems, there were no controversy, and they don’t expect there to be any problems there tomorrow,” Meehan said on Wednesday.
Following the Mayor’s Prayer breakfast, Councilman Doug Cymek said he was pleased with the attendance as well as Boykin’s speech.
“It is a full house,” he said. “It was a very nice message that uplifted everyone.”
Boykin’s military career began in 1971 when he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Infantry from Virginia Tech. From there, he served more than 24 years in the Joint Special Operations, he was one of the original members of the US Army’s Delta Force, and a former commander of the Green Berets.
Following many other combat operations, in 1993 Boykin clashed with Muslim warlord Osman Atto in Somalia, which was chronicled in the movie “Black Hawk Down”. He has been wounded twice while being involved in every conflict since Vietnam. The majority of his time was spent in the Middle East.
Ultimately, Boykin has served as the Commander of the US Army Special Forces Command and as the Commandant of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. He served six years in Intelligence and was a member of the National Security Policy Coordinating Committee for Terrorism and Coordinating Sub-Group for Homeland Security.