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Beyond Belief – Guest Post

March 10, 2011

A friend of LeftFace wrote a piece for us.

Beyond Belief

By Air Force Infidel

OK, it’s not really beyond belief. Sadly, it is completely to be expected. Your DoD dollars are going to support religious conversions. Some of my Christian friends see no problem with this stating the benefits of religion. However they typically mean the benefits of their religion. I like to ask them to imagine federal dollars going to programs that convert people to Islam or Hinduism or a nature centered religion. Some of them can then detect the problem while others will still maintain that it is somehow different. In September of 2010, Fort Bragg hosted an event called Rock the Fort. This event was organized by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Among the “benefits” it advertised to local churches was the following:

“Jesus’ mandate to disciple the nations is still in effect (Matt.28:19). The Rock the Fort outreach is designed to channel new believers into your church, so you can encourage them to further spiritual growth. The future of the church lies in reaching and discipling the next generation.”

This event was designed not only to reaffirm the faith of evangelical Christians; it was designed to “disciple” people, to create “new believers.” Precious DoD funds going to create an army of Christians or rather to create Christians for the army.

Fort Bragg spent more than $54,000 to support this effort of religious conversion. In addition to the dollars, immeasurable support was given to the organization to include endorsements by public affairs, being advertised as an official Spiritual Fitness event (a topic for another day), the Golden Knights, the use of the parade field, and so on.

Todd Stiefel, a member of Americans United’s National Advisory Council and founder of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, described the effort to Church & State this way, “‘Rock the Fort’ is leveraging the financial and human resources of the U.S. Army and the BGEA to convert the children of minority faith families to evangelical Christianity.”

Numerous organizations protested the event, in spite of the controversy, the event proceeded as planned. The Freedom From Religion Foundation received assurances that Fort Bragg would be “willing to provide similar support to comparable events sponsored by similar non-Federal entities that address the needs of the Soldiers on this Installation.”

And so was born Rock Beyond Belief.

Rock Beyond Belief was organized by Sgt. Justin Griffith. It was not intended to be a counter-offensive. It was explicitly stated that the event would not be anti-Christian, there would be no “de-baptizing.” It was to be a day of fun, music, and affirmation for secularists. (Non-theists are a varied group and go by many names, some by belief system, some just by preference. These names include but are not limited to: Freethinkers, Humanists, Atheists, and Non-theist. Also, not to be excluded from the list of people who would have enjoyed the day’s events are many people of various religious faiths who share common values with these groups.) Rock Beyond Belief has the support of many secular and military foundations. Its list of speakers includes some of the most well known names in the free thought world including Dale McGowan (2008 Harvard Humanist of the Year, executive director of Foundation Beyond Belief and author of the book Parenting Beyond Belief), Mikey Weinstein (founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation), and Richard Dawkins (one of the biggest names in atheism). There were many more names important to the Freethought movement including US military personnel affected by the clash of religion and the military.

Rock Beyond Belief put together its proposal package, raised funds, organized speakers and musical groups. They worked through all the proper channels at Fort Bragg. After nearly six months, it looked as if all the time and effort would pay off. On February 17, 2011 the legal office signed off on the proposal recommending to the commander that all requests be approved.  Rock Beyond Belief was ready to move forward with the event planned to be held on April 2, 2011. All that was needed was for the garrison commander to sign off on it.

On March 1, 2011 Colonel Stephan Sicinski “approved” the event. However, Rock Beyond Belief was told they would have use only of the Main Post Theater or York Theater, considerably smaller venues than the BGEA event. In addition, there would be zero funds available to them (Rock Beyond Belief, a grass roots effort, requested about 25% less money than the BGEA, a multinational organization with net assets valued at more than $170 million), and that all advertising will carry a disclaimer that there is no endorsement by Fort Bragg, the US Army or DoD (even though information for the BGEA event was not held to similar standards).

With these stipulations, Sgt. Griffiths felt he had no other option than to cancel the event.  In addition to the lack of financial support, the offered venue was too small and there was no support to make this a family friendly event. Rock Beyond Belief issued an “apology” to its supporters.

Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation will be leading the legal battle against the US Army.

 

On a personal note, I came to the free thought movement only relatively recently. I felt alone and often under attack in the military community. I have since discovered numerous resources both specifically involving military life and life in general. Here’s just a partial list if you are looking for support for yourself or to understand the values and struggles of those outside of mainstream religions. Keep in mind, you do not have to be an atheist to support or understand these groups. If you believe government and religion should be separate you will find much in common with The Military Religious Freedom Foundation and The Freedom From Religion Foundation. If you want to understand Humanism The American Humanist Association is a great place to start (not all atheists identify as Humanists but a great many of us do). Foundation Beyond Belief is a charitable foundation “created to focus, encourage and demonstrate the generosity and compassion of atheists and humanists.” Finally, the Godless Liberal Social Society is very irreverent and in general I would not recommend it to my Christian/Jewish/Muslim friends. Only religious people who have a very well developed sense of humor should attempt to enter that site and even then, you will likely be offended. All of these organizations/groups have facebook pages as well.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. IrishJenn permalink
    March 10, 2011 5:56 pm

    Well written, AFI!
    I sent a little email about this to several online news outlets. I heard back from Politico that they would forward the story on to their Defense reporter. I hope this gets wide coverage.

    • Air Force Infidel permalink
      March 11, 2011 11:13 am

      Thank you. In doing some research for this I was surprised how many articles and how much information was out there….but no big names covering it yet.

  2. March 11, 2011 8:01 am

    I am not at all surprised to read this. I went on a battalion marriage retreat that was completely skewed towards a religous perspective, though they didn’t come outright and claim this. Some of the big messages were: premarital sex will ruin your marital sex life, masturbation is wrong, and withhold sex in order for your spouse to complete chores (not sure of the religous base for this!). I was completely horrified. Not only the amount of money that was spent on this, Iestimated at least $500 per couple, and there were about 20 couples, but the missed oppoturnity to really support marriages during wartime. The military can do better!
    http://fishessoutawater.blogspot.com/2010/09/marriage-retreats-and-attitude-shifts.html

    • libarmywife permalink
      March 11, 2011 8:06 am

      The religious slant to most of the marriage retreats and workshops are the reason we won’t use them. I don’t need the covert or overt preaching, we don’t chose to have a religion in our lives and to shove that down our throats as well, if/when we are having problems is one more irritant and stressor. The “see the chaplain first” attitude is frustrating as HELL for those who need a mediator, someone to help get a different perspective, but don’t want to be prayed at!

    • Air Force Infidel permalink
      March 11, 2011 11:11 am

      Thanks for the link to your blog Hil Fish. I’ve seen a lot of push toward the marriage retreats and saw they were chaplain sponsored. I always wondered what they were like…it actually sounds worse than I imagined!

    • March 11, 2011 11:13 pm

      WHAT?! Now I want to attend one just so I can snark my way through a weekend. I think that would be extraordinarily therapeutic.

  3. March 11, 2011 11:15 pm

    Thanks for posting this, AFI. It’s so incredibly wrong-headed, I’m not even sure how that CO has gotten away with it. Wait, yes I do. The culture of evangelism in the services–and it seems especially prevalent in the Army and Air Force–means that such an outcome is a given.

    I hope the lawsuit makes a very deep, very detailed impression that sticks with the military for a long, long time.

  4. March 12, 2011 7:43 am

    I would be kinda curious about why there were no funds available. Yeah, it does seem like the approval of funds and the allowing use of certain buildings was biased, but I’m curious if there were other reasons too. I mean, funding is being cut all over right now, so funds being denied doesn’t necessarily surprise me or cause me to think right away that something is wrong. Also, what were the reasons behind authorizing use of only the one building? Perhaps it was biased, or perhaps, communication was iffy and needs weren’t clearly articulated, etc. I don’t know, but before I would get upset about it, I would want to know more facts.

    Something that needs remembered, by Christians and others. My main concern is that equal assistance is given to both groups. Frankly, if one group is assisted, while another is not, things could very well switch down the road (and probably already are). (However, I’m guessing these two events were not planned at the same time, so it wasn’t like they knew there was two needs for the same funds…or maybe I’m wrong.)

    • Air Force Infidel permalink
      March 12, 2011 10:21 am

      When protests went up for the first event, the powers that be said they would give similar support for a similar event. (Zero dollars compared to $54,000 is not at all similar.) Rock Beyond Belief asked for very similar items…same venue, bouncy house, funds for their presenters. Line for line nearly the same as BGEA…except RBB actually asked for less funds. When the letter of denial came in, there was absolutely no explanation given for the lack of funding. And even if it were about funds, why the change in venue? Why not a space that allowed for the family friendly activities the Christian group had? Why the explicit order that a disclaimer be put on all published material? The Christian event was given official sanction, publicized on official letterhead, soldiers were actively encouraged to go as a way of meeting their “spritual fitness” requirement…

      • March 14, 2011 10:25 am

        I agree that the non-monetary support that the CO refused shows that it wasn’t just a fiscal decision but bias through and through. If they meant to give similar support, the CO could have signed off on everything but the money and suggested next year, they get their paperwork in before a certain date, when there’s still money left to apportion.

        This decision was clearly not based on financial concerns.

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