West Point leader says coach recieved corrective training after directing football team to pray

Jeff Monken calling a play as the head coach for the Army football team during a game versus theUniversity at Buffalo in West Point, N.Y., Sept. 6, 2014. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Steve Cortez/ Released)

West Point’s football coach, Jeff Monken, is at the center of the school’s latest controversy.  After defeating Temple University on September 2nd, a video -produced by West Point- showing Coach Jeff Monken directing one of his staff members to lead the team in a prayer was released on Facebook.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation raised concerns publicly after it said it had received dozens of complaints.  West Point’s athletic Director Boo Corrigan ordered the video be removed, replacing it with a shorter edited video of the celebration, according to Army Times.

YouTube video

The superintendent of West Point, Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, said because it was offensive to some people, leaving it online would have been “like grinding salt into the wound.”

“Maybe 90 percent of the people who were out there supported the prayer,” Caslen said to the Washington Post. “But, when you look at it from a legal basis and from a legal standpoint, and then you look at it from a leadership standpoint, there were some concerns, and I think they’re valid concerns.”

Army football players are shown praying together after beating Temple last week. (Image from Army video)
Army football players are shown praying together after beating Temple last week. (Image from Army video)

Caslen said it was incorrect for Monken to direct or strongly encourage a prayer while serving in a leadership position at a government-funded public institution.

“It creates an atmosphere where it is expected from everybody to say a prayer regardless of their faith or no faith,” Caslen said. “It’s like me as the superintendent of the Corps of Cadets saying, ‘Let’s take a knee and say a prayer together.’ I don’t have the authority to do that. I cannot use my position of authority — my public position of authority — to direct my subordinates to do something that is inconsistent with their rights. So, that’s probably where we crossed the line.”

Mikey Weinstein, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation’s director, said he personally reached out to Caslen to tell him why he thought Monken’s actions were wrong.

Weinstein said he is holding back from filing an official complaint with the DoD over last week’s incident, that occurred under Caslen’s command, because Caslen assured him that Monken would apologize to his players and the issue would addressed.

“To Caslen’s credit, trust has been built up over his time there, and we trusted them to take care of it,” said Weinsten.

In 2007, Caslen was investigated after he was featured with other senior officers, in uniform, in a controversial video that promoted an evangelical organization -the Christian Embassy.

According to the report, “one part of the film, which included interviews of LTC XXXX (name redacted from report), BG Caslen, and Maj Gen Catton, was notable for its military focus: it opened with a view of the Pentagon’s River entrance. The camera zoomed in on a bronze plaque reading, “Department of Defense.” The video then showed 14 individual segments featuring military members, Pentagon activity, and a camouflage-colored Bible, leading to a close-up of the official DoD seal.”

The Defense Department inspector general eventually found that the officers had improperly used their uniforms after the video was brought to DoD’s attention by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

Weinstein said that he and Caslen have had an ongoing speaking relationship since his organization filed a complaint over the Christian Embassy video almost ten years ago.

Caslen said that Monken was given training by Athletic Director Corrigan about public institution’s policies on school-sponsored prayer.

“There’s a way to make that happen with the chaplain, and an invitation without a coercive effect and without showing reprisal against some of the other people that had elected not to participate. That’s the proper way to do that.”

Monken joined the Army’s Black Knights as their head football coach in 2013 but is not a stranger to working for a public-institution or a military academy.  He held various coaching positions on the Navy Football team from 2002 to 2007.

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