“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 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