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Evolution, Revolution and the US Senate Confirmation of Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen

Lt. General Robert L. Caslen. (Photo: The U.S. Army / Flickr)

“The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget.”

-Thomas Stephen Szasz

Since receiving word a little over a week ago of President Obama’s nomination of Lt. General Robert L. “Aroma of Jesus Christ” Caslen to become the next Superintendent (i.e. “Commander”) of West Point, I have been voraciously digesting volumes of information in order to determine what position I should take on his pending Senate confirmation. West Point faculty, staff, cadets, concerned parents of current West Point cadets, and even near-term future cadets (entering in a few months with the Class of 2017) have been stridently begging and beseeching me to use the Military Religious Freedom Foundation’s (MRFF’s) hard-won military influence and take immediate action in order to ensure that this man, who once publicly demonstrated that his personal mission of Christian proselytizing and evangelism was significantly superior to his sworn oath of commission to the United States Constitution in the scandalous Christian Embassy video (Caslen appears from approximately 4:04 to 4:14 in the linked video), would never again be given the chance to produce another religiously hostile and toxic environment for those who don’t share his faith as the most senior ranking officer at West Point.

You see, Lt. General Caslen is a devout, evangelical Christian. Was it that fact alone that has caused so many in the last few days to petition me for MRFF’s expeditious and aggressive intervention to prevent his U.S. Senate confirmation? No, not in the slightest. MRFF is truly honored to enjoy a plethora of evangelical military MRFF clients, MRFF donors, and even treasured and beloved MRFF staff who share Caslen’s evangelical version of the Christian faith. Indeed, it was never Caslen’s chosen denomination of Christianity, nor his professed personal relationship with Jesus Christ, which was the gravamen of our unconstitutional charges and effusive outrage. Far from it. What WAS the source of this “anti-Caslen” fury was the time, place, and manner in which the General chose to promote and practice his faith. He chose wrong on all three categories – egregiously so. Well, that was then and this is now.

OK, everyone, please grab your coats – because hell is apparently freezing over. After literally painstaking consideration of every salient detail available to me, I am pleased to announce that the Military Religious Freedom Foundation fully endorses the United States Senate’s confirmation of the President’s nomination of Lt. General Robert Caslen to the position of Superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point.

I know, I know. Please let me explain. I’m as utterly surprised as you are.

It is important for me to make something exceedingly clear to the nearly 200 MRFF clients at West Point, along with the well over 31,200 MRFF clients throughout the U.S. armed forces (the overwhelming majority of whom – approximately 96% – are either practicing Protestants or Roman Catholics). The Lt. General Caslen who, pending likely Senate confirmation, will soon be returning to West Point as the Superintendent, does not at all appear to be the same Brig. General Caslen who chose to use his position as the 70th Commandant of Cadets at West Point (from 2006-2008) to unconstitutionally endorse his dominionist, fundamentalist, evangelical Christian faith in uniform. In point of fact, Caslen was actually President of the notorious fundamentalist / dominionist parachurch organization, Officers Christian Fellowship, while simultaneously serving as West Point’s Commandant.

After breaking and catapulting the Christian Embassy video story into viral proportions in late 2006 and demanding an aggressive investigation by the Pentagon, MRFF took a strong stance against this man, and the six other military officers and DoD officials who appeared with him in open, brazen contempt of both bedrock military regulations and directives as well as the No Establishment Clause (First Amendment) and No Religious Test (Clause 3, Article VI) provisions of the United States Constitution. In the video, Caslen appear in uniform at the Pentagon, stating, “I’ll see a brother in the Lord from these Flag Fellowship groups, and I immediately feel like I’m being held accountable – because we’re the aroma of Jesus Christ.” The military’s “response” was predictably pitiful, pathetic, and toothless. Even though the DoD Inspector General found that Caslen and three other uniformed Christian Embassy video participants “improperly endorsed and participated with a non-Federal entity while in uniform,” and went on to recommend that “appropriate corrective action” be taken against them, no legitimate or meaningful formal punishments were ever levied against Caslen or any of the other truly odious offenders. And, thus, the not-so-tacit “message” of DoD-sanctioned acceptance and encouragement of this unconstitutional malfeasance of fundamentalist Christian supremacy and putrescent exceptionalism was trumpeted loud and clear to the American military’s legions of rank and file. There was no nuance. There never is. There will be no forgetting.

Now, I can’t speak for the professional development of the other officers and officials who appeared alongside then-Brig. General Caslen all those years ago, but they are not currently being considered for the most senior position of sculpting the leaders of tomorrow’s Army. Such formidable influence deserves and cries out for the strictest scrutiny. Shortly after the announcement of Caslen’s nomination, I began reaching out to MRFF clients and supporters who have been working closely with Lt. Gen. Caslen in the “post-Christian Embassy” era and especially during his current deployment to Iraq, where he is serving as the Chief of the Office of Security Cooperation. His current service, including but not limited to constantly mediating the perpetual powder keg of relations between the Kurds and the central Iraqi government, is viewed universally as absolutely exemplary.

Without exception, every one of these men and women who are directly associated with MRFF have reported to me that Lt. Gen. Caslen today has a powerfully revised view of the world that particularly includes a genuine respect for plurality, diversity, and the dire national security implications of unbridled religious extremism in all of its poisonous and divisive forms. Presumptively, that new and fresh perspective on the aforementioned religious extremism would include dominion or fundamentalist Christianity. All biblical irony aside, these distinct and clearly recognized changes in the man were not instantaneously “creationist” in origin. Quite on the contrary, his constitutional about-face was truly “evolutionary,” based on the diligent, personal examination of his nonpareil, first-hand experiences since the dark and shameful days of his participation in the wretched Christian Embassy imbroglio. It is very hard to change. Such a sea-change magnitude of evolution in personal belief and resultant behavior speaks extremely highly of this valued senior soldier.

This man, who once placed the Great Commission to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Mark 16:15 and Matthew 28:19) ahead of his sworn oath to the Constitution, has seemingly discovered the Great Commandment which Jesus espouses in his Sermon On The Mount: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). The only question that remains is how he will perform in action at the storied Academy on the Hudson. Will he have the guts to put pen to paper and make the hard choices to deviate from, and consequently eradicate, traditional, embedded policies of discrimination at West Point? After the recent and singularly heroic public resignation of former West Point Cadet Blake Page, Director of MRFF Affairs at West Point, there is no way Lt. General Caslen can ignore the myriad problems of unconstitutional religious oppression that exist and persist in deleteriously plaguing West Point’s vital mission.

This new position, where Caslen will be THE titular leader of America’s oldest – and arguably most iconic and venerable – military academy will be a thorough test of the magnitude of his “evolution” and of his comprehensive mettle. For instance, to stand up and say that branding an entire cadet regiment as Christian Crusaders is wrong will take guts. Further, to acknowledge that flaunting Christian pageantry at mandatory events by requiring prayers is wrong would be revolutionary. As I wrote recently, the recent West Point Combating Terrorism Center “think tank” report on right-wing terrorist groups shamefully ignored the incalculable national security damage wrought by the at-large institutional endorsement of fundamentalist evangelical Christian dogma throughout the corpus of the entire U.S. military, including at West Point itself. For Lt. General Caslen to avoid that same mortally myopic oversight, to ignore the shameful plank in West Point’s eye while speaking out against specks in the eyes of others (à la Matthew 7:3), would be a significant transformative first step on the long, laborious road to a truly Constitutionally compliant U.S. Military. I look forward to a future where MRFF no longer has to discover and expose disgraceful invitations to West Point events, such as the recent cancelled National Prayer Breakfast invitation extended to the ignominious Islamophobe, retired Lt. General William G. Boykin.

It is presently unclear, of course, as to what Caslen will actually do at West Point. What IS clear is that he incontrovertibly deserves and merits the chance to do it.

I readily admit that I render MRFF’s endorsement with some nontrivial trepidation. I’m not a big believer in the often-flimsy solace of mere “hope.” I think that hope is terribly overrated. However, with everything I currently know about this extraordinary man, who was once an enemy of the Constitution and a scourge to the religious liberty of cadets and soldiers, I truly do hope he can make the changes at West Point that are so desperately needed. I genuinely believe he may indeed be up to the task of furthering the protection of the religious freedom of the cadets, staff, and faculty at West Point. I will continue to monitor Lt. General Caslen’s performance and seek a meaningful, good faith dialogue between him and MRFF in order to unequivocally ensure that the precious religious freedom of the many MRFF clients at West Point are assiduously defended from the top down and even bottom up. I believe that Lt. General Caslen has “evolved.” It is my conviction that he has well learned that one’s personal religious rights, be they evangelical Christian rights or not, shall never trump the bedrock civil and human rights of one’s fellow Americans. That fact is foundational Constitutional truth.

In the fullness of time, all things are possible. It will soon be Lt. General Robert Caslen’s time at West Point to show us all what possibilities may come to fruition. If confirmed, he will become the 59th Superintendent at West Point. He will inherit and assume a position honored by the heralded legacies of luminous (and sometimes controversial) prior Academy helmsmen such as Sylvanus Thayer, Robert E. Lee, Douglas MacArthur, and William Westmoreland. MRFF wishes him well. We, along with the rest of the nation, will be carefully watching his continued evolution.

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