On Thursday, People For the American Way sent a letter to the mayor and city council of Ocean City, Maryland, urging them to rescind their invitation to retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin to headline this week’s Mayor’s Prayer breakfast. Boykin, whom PFAW president Michael Keegan called “one of the most bigoted and offensive figures on the national stage,” makes his living by spreading Islamophobia and conspiracy theories. He has, among other things, said that Islam is not protected under the First Amendment, that there should be no more mosques in America and that President Obama used health care reform to create a “brownshirt” army loyal just to him.
Now, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City are joining the call for Ocean City to rethink its Prayer Breakfast speaker.
In a letter to Ocean City Mayor Richard Meehan, CAIR wrote:
We question the appropriateness of this choice for an official event, given Boykin's long, shameful history of extreme and bigoted views. . . It will be a discredit to your office and a disservice to the citizens of Ocean City if such a man is allowed to spread his divisive falsehoods and prejudiced ideas at a government-sponsored function.
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. We ask that you reconsider inviting him, given that the biased ideas he espouses -- though protected by the First Amendment -- should be repudiated, not given a legitimizing platform.
Rev. Dr. Katharine Henderson, President of Auburn Theological Seminary, issued a public statement on Boykin’s invitiation:
It is outrageous that Lt. General William “Jerry” Boykin is scheduled to be the featured speaker at this week’s Ocean City Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast. Anyone who has conducted a Google search on Boykin would know that he frequently employs hateful rhetoric and endorses wild conspiracy theories about American Muslims.
Our nation is stronger when we place these sorts of attacks on American Muslims out of bounds. 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. The right thing to do in this situation is for Ocean's City's Mayor to respectfully and forcefully tell Boykin that he will not be delivering remarks at the upcoming breakfast because of his history of hateful attacks on American Muslims and Muslims generally.
Meanwhile, DelmarvaNow.com, a local paper, is reporting that the breakfast is scheduled to go ahead, but that the mayor and city council are beginning to feel the heat and distance themselves from Boykin:
Councilwoman Mary Knight said she had first heard of Boykin's views in early December, and that she had been assured he would speak appropriately at the breakfast. In the past couple days, she has received more than 300 emails from people about the event, most of which are forwarded versions of the emails circulated about it by the two protesting organizations. Councilman Brent Ashley’s inbox had more than 170 messages.
Knight said Tuesday she is not sure whether she attend — she hadn’t bought a ticket yet. Ashley said he has a prior engagement, and will not attend the breakfast.
Since the story was published, over 700 Maryland members of People For the American Way have written to the mayor and city council urging them to reject Boykin’s message of hate.