Saturday, March 19, 2011

Don't Pray? Don't Say!

Yes, Virginia, there are atheists in foxholes...but some of their commanders would rather not admit it.

Rock the Fort (Ft. Bragg) 2010, put on by the Billy Graham Evangelist Association, was hosted by Ft. Bragg despite complaints that such an event constituted endorsement of religion on the part of the federal government.  Even excluding a Golden Knights skydiving presentation at the event it looked like the post spent $50-100K on the event.  No problem, said Lieutenant General Frank G. Helmick, other groups were welcome to host an event of similar magnitude and enjoy a similar level of support from the DoD, the Army, and Fort Bragg.  Rock Beyond Belief was born.

Preparations were made.  Speakers - such as Richard Dawkins and Dan Barker - were lined up.  Musicians were booked.  Rock Beyond Belief was going to offer a free "day of fun and entertainment for the rest of us" on April 2, 2011.  Then Garrison Commander, Colonel Stephen J. Sicinski, seems to have changed his mind, unilaterally downsizing the event, imposing limitations not asked of Rock the Fort, effectively reneging on the  on the deal.

This is yet another example of the ongoing religious struggle in the military.  A conservative evangelical Christianity seems to be the preferred - if not government endorsed - faith in the service academies, in the Pentagon, in garrison, and in the field.  This despite the fact that personnel who describe their religious convictions as "Atheist" or "No Religious Preference" comprise 21% of all service members.  Evangelicals claim 35% and Catholics 22% of our military population.

There are organizations supporting the separation of church and state, some especially as it affects what ought to be a secular institution.  The Secular Coalition of America lobbies on behalf of the secular perspective as applied to government issues.  The Freedom From Religion Foundation is active in the Rock Beyond Belief and other issues.  The Military Religious Freedom Foundation wants an even-handed approach to personal religious choice for our soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen.  And the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers are letting folks know that not only don't you need to be an evangelical to be in the armed forces of the United States, you don't need to profess any religious preference at all.

Meanwhile, on the civilian front, the BGEA seems to have purged most references to their Rock the Fort (Ft. Bragg) 2010 and Rock the Fort (Ft. Leonard Wood) 2009, though a few tidbits remain.

The fight to defend the religious freedom of the brave men and women who have sworn their lives and sacred honor to defend the Constitution of the United States of America continues...

CORRECTION: Details on Rock the Fort can still be found on the Billy Graham Festivals website.  Once active links to Rock the Fort at the BGEA are dead and the search function there returns no hits for Rock the Fort (Ft. Bragg) 2010.  This correction was sent to me by the FRFF.

Also, in the interest of avoiding an echo chamber here at the Breakfast, you can read dissenting views on this issue at God and Country blog.

UPDATE: According to the Fayobserver the official story from Ft. Bragg is that the $54,000 came from "an account known as the Chaplain Tithes and Offering Fund.  It's tithe money given by churchgoers on post, not taxpayer money."  Sicinski said, "We didn't give any money to Rock the Fort. No appropriated dollars and no federal nonappropriated dollars went toward supporting that event. Now, we provided security, we provided the location. And that is exactly what we are willing to do for Rock Beyond Belief."  Interesting twist...let's see where it leads.

There's a heated exchange in the comments section below the Fayobserver article.

REUPDATE: The documentation package - complete with "post-requisites" - has been resubmitted to the authorities at Fort Bragg.  Your move, Uncle Sam...


  1. Interesting, glad the updates got included though.

    I would contend the phrase "separation from church and state" is not constitutional, and takes the original purpose to a level the founding father's never meant. They did not want a government of no-religion within, but a government that did not support one main religion or church as the officially state sponsored and favored religion.

    Also, the phrase "especially as it affects what ought to be a secular institution." I would contend does not mean it MUST be a totally secular institution. I agree that we do not want one officially funded and state sponsored religion (even if it was pure Christianity), but I strongly object to the Dawkin's type "angry atheist" mentality that wants to force people to leave all religious beliefs behind when entering the public sector. That's unfair, and possibly even prejudice.

    So long as the government is not spending tax payers dollars on events like this, and is allowing other groups to do the same, I don't see the problem with it.

  2. We will differ on the degree to which our government should or can remain secular, but I hope we can agree our military must be non-sectarian institution.

  3. Non-sectarian works for me, just as long as it does not over-compensate and become sectarian without knowing it. A potential danger is that in the name of separation of church and state what ends up happening is those of the Christian faith are denied rights for the sake of those whose beliefs are differing. Don't take that statement the wrong way, I'm not saying that's the case, but a potential danger. Secular belief is belief just as Christian belief, or Judaism belief, or Islamic belief - but in differing ways.

    Long story short, we shouldn't cater to any specific crowd. Let everyone have the right to believe how they want and organize potlucks, parties, w/e off the government's dime.

    Then again, all beliefs religious or secular are not created equal, and we should strongly stand against ones that are dangerous.