SGT Justin Griffith, organizer of the secular Rock Beyond Belief event at Fort Bragg, will be our guest on Thursday, March 10, 2011 at 9 PM Eastern (see time conversions and access details at the end of this article). On March 1, the Army reneged on its support of the Rock Beyond Belief concert, forcing Justin to have to cancel the event that was scheduled for Saturday, April 2. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is suing in federal court.
Background: Church, State, and Religious Evangelism at Fort Bragg.
Back in September, separation of church and state watchdogs were alarmed by the Army's decision to sponsor the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's "Rock the Fort" concert at Ft. Bragg. The purpose of the event was to "bring soldiers into God's army" and to "convert them to Christ." Military personnel were encouraged to attend the event, which was co-sponsored by Fort Bragg's Religious Support Office and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The event was open to the public.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation learned via a Freedom of Information Act request to Fort Bragg that at least $52,475 was directly spent on the evangelical event including funds for various meals, transportation, performers and presenters, apparently by the Religious Support Office of Fort Bragg. Personnel costs, such as entertainment by the Golden Knights Parachute Team, security, and other costs, were not disclosed. FFRF has appealed its FOIA request because Fort Bragg was partially unresponsive and unclear in its FOIA response.
According to Ministry Watch, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's net assets in 2009 totaled $248,750,000 and it had received over $85 million in contributions that year. The Army saw fit to fund over $50,000 for the tax-exempt religious organization's "Rock the Fort Event."
Despite calls to stop the government-sponsored proselytizing event by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, Fort Bragg went ahead with the Billy Graham event, with Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick promising that it would not infringe on anyone's freedoms and that "Bragg would provide the same opportunity to non-Christian religious groups that want to host similar events."
In retrospect, perhaps the key here is non-Christian religious groups.
In response to the Fort Bragg incident, SGT Griffith began organizing the "Rock Beyond Belief" concert (we spoke with him for a few minutes on the God Discussion show back in November).
Things were shaping up nicely, thanks to Justin and volunteers' hard work. Fort Bragg’s legal department recommended fully supporting Rock Beyond Belief's proposal. A stellar lineup of speakers, such as Dan Barker, Ed Brayton, Richard Dawkins, Hemant Mehta, Mikey Weinstein and more were scheduled to appear. Five bands were lined up.
A bombshell letter dated March 1 from Fort Bragg Garrison Commander forced Justin to cancel the event. He announced,
I’m not the one who owes everyone an apology, but I’m offering one anyway.
On March 1st we received the Fort Bragg Garrison Commander’s final decision letter, which by all indications was going to approve everything we asked for. Obviously, it didn’t. It placed so many restrictions and unexpected changes that we are completely unable to put on the Rock Beyond Belief festival. Additionally, the lack of similar financial support from government-controlled funds prevents us from actually putting on an event. We were not able to utilize the same system of funding that the Evangelical Christians did, nor were we presented with any alternative (or that there was a problem in this area before March 1st).
It has been a long process involving nearly six months of hard work from an all volunteer group of brilliant individuals. Our final packet that we submitted in early January (not the first packet either) started going through the appropriate officials and committees, and I would get updates as it progressed. By mid-February, the packet had been with one of the very last stops on the journey for weeks: ‘LEGAL’. Our patience paid off, and on February 17th, they signaled to us that their official legal recommendations to the commander would include everything we asked for. Keep in mind, we made a point to ask for exactly the same treatment as Rock the Fort, in accordance with the Freedom Of Information Act documents that came out in early January.
At that point, we only had to wait for the Garrison Commander to sign off, and we finally relaxed as the hard part was finally over. Unfortunately, his decision letter went against the recommendations of his legal staff (as is his right to do). This came as a total surprise to us, and completely blindsided everyone involved. I tried to do a face to face meeting and a formal rebuttal to his letter, but it did not have any effect. You can read our response to the letter ...
As a reminder, the event that inspired us to put Rock Beyond Belief together was the evangelical Christian Rock the Fort – a Spiritual Fitness event co-sponsored by the Religious Support Office at Fort Bragg and the Billy Graham Evangelical Association. That membership-drive event had a stated goal of converting as many soldiers, spouses, and civilians as possible to their particular version of Christianity. They were very successful, having bragged about converting 500 on stage at one event, and 200 at another.
We at Rock Beyond Belief decided to take the high road and that two wrongs don’t make a right. Our festival was not going to attempt to ‘de-convert’ or ‘de-baptize’ anyone. Rather, we were going to raise awareness and tolerance of the non-religious segment of the military, while at the same time respecting other’s beliefs as private. We had no interest in telling our crowd that their current religious preference was wrong, incomplete, or in some way needing to be changed.
For a chart showing the monies paid to the Billy Graham Evangelical Association and Justin's response letter, visit Rock Beyond Belief.
GodDiscussion Show Details.
Time: Thursday, March 10, 2011 @ 6:00 p.m. PACIFIC (see time conversions below)
God Discussion on Blog Talk Radio:
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