After nearly 6,000 people joined the campaign on Change.org, Fort Bragg has committed to host Rock Beyond Belief with the full support it was promised.
The petition on Change.org was created after Fort Bragg’s garrison commander refused to provide adequate support for the event – even though Fort Bragg officials had made similar arrangements for a religious event just months ago. Rock Beyond Belief’s organizers had asked for lesser or equal amounts of support for their event than the Army and Fort Bragg officials provided for the Billy Graham Evangelical Association’s “Rock the Fort” celebration in 2010 but were later denied the same level of support.
But after tireless campaigning by the organizers, it was recently announced that on March 31st, 2012, Fort Bragg will be hosting Rock Beyond Belief with the full support it was promised.
The chief organizer of the event, Sgt. Justin Griffith, notes that this victory was the result of an incredibly diverse outpouring on support. The ACLU, AU, MRFF and FFRF all came together to pile the pressure on Fort Bragg officials. The petition created at Change.org was also integral to this victory:
“Thank you for helping us smash barriers and increase awareness, tolerance, and respect for atheists in the military. There are two types of pressure that work when a system is broken: public and legal. The change.org petition started on our behalf utilized both concepts to a staggeringly impressive degree. I am aware of several politicians who hit ‘reply’ with some nasty comments about us, and they are probably sweating now. The petition also accidentally flooded the inboxes of many military officials. This provided some much needed direct counter-evidence to their dismissive hand-waiving claim that ‘only a few hundred people were interested in attending.’ That claim was literally laughable to reporters, but without the rallying cry of the people behind us – I fear that in time it could have become accepted as ‘true’ somehow. Our visibility has only sky-rocketed since then, and we’ve used it to affect great change. Our second and virtually identical submission was met with quite a different response. We now look forward to shattering stereo-types in a fully supported Rock Beyond Belief festival on Fort Bragg – March 31st 2012. Free to all, civilians welcome!”
“Rock Beyond Belief,” a festival of nontheistic speakers and musicians that was going to be held at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on April 2, 2011 has been canceled after Fort Bragg’s garrison commander refused to provide adequate support for the event – even though Fort Bragg officials had made similar arrangements for a religious event just months ago.
Rock Beyond Belief’s organizers had asked for lesser or equal amounts of support for their event than the Army and Fort Bragg officials provided for the Billy Graham Evangelical Association’s “Rock the Fort” celebration in 2010. You can see a complete comparison of the more than $100,000 in government funds provided to the Rock the Fort event to the funds asked for by the Rock Beyond Belief organizers here.
According to Rock Beyond Belief’s chief organizer, Sgt. Justin Griffith, service members without any religious affiliation compose the second-largest “religious” group at Fort Bragg, after Christians. Griffith also points out on the festival’s website, rockbeyondbelief.com, that Fort Bragg officially cosponsored the evangelical concert event in 2010 despite calls for the Christian event to be canceled. He states on the website that Fort Bragg officials explained that “[Fort Bragg] would be willing and able to provide the same support to comparable events.”
Fort Bragg officials have offered no reasonable explanation for denying a nontheistic festival the same level of support and accommodation that was provided to a Christian festival just months ago. Fort Bragg's actions give all the appearance of discrimination and religious privileging. The service members at Fort Bragg and all nontheistic service members need your help in being heard now.
The above is from the Secular Coalition for America's Action Alert. Further information, including contact information for the garrison commander that made the decision, can be found there.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has been instrumental, from the beginning, in their assistance with this issue. Their own Action Alert can be found here, and you can listen to a Freethought Radio podcast on the matter here.
In my own words: It would be better for the Army, like any government agency, to stay out of the business of supporting any particular view on religious or spiritual matters. The Constitution itself and particularly the First Amendment indicate that church and state should be kept separate. However, the Army already supported the "Rock the Fort" festival conducted by Billy Graham Ministries, which openly stated that its purpose was to convert as many people as possible. The secular festival "Rock Beyond Belief" was taking the high road and not looking to de-convert anyone, just to provide a similarly fun festival without the religious pressure. The Army failed to treat them equally. Regardless of any officer's personal beliefs, this is the US Army, and the primary oath of service is to defend the Constitution. -- Kevin C Jenkins