Last minute crippling restrictions forced us to cancel

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 below.

Sir,

I have reviewed your decision letter at great length. It is with great personal cost and heartache that I must inform you that we are abandoning hope for the ‘similar level of support’ to the evangelical Christian event that LTG Helmick referenced in September. Despite your own legal staff’s recommendations to provide everything we asked for, we are not getting anything close to that. Mr. Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, President of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, (MRFF http://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org ) has offered to litigate on our behalf, and we are likely to take Mr. Weinstein and MRFF up on the offer. For the following reasons we view the limiting terms and restrictions embedded in your decision letter as making our event untenable.

Fort Bragg had officially endorsed and co-sponsored the Rock the Fort event, even going as far as to promote it as part of the Spiritual Fitness initiative. The stated mission for Rock the Fort was growing their membership, and converting as many people to their particular version of evangelical Christianity as possible. Every flyer, poster, and newspaper / radio advertisement contained official Fort Bragg phone numbers, and the press releases were all on Fort Bragg letterhead. I received several notices and emails on my official Fort Bragg email account, from both the Religious Support Office and Public Affairs Office. It is completely unreasonable to consider the demand to place a specific disclaimer that there is no endorsement for the non-religious themed Rock Beyond Belief event, and still claim that a similar level of support is given to us. We weren’t even planning to hold a membership drive like the evangelical Christian event, rather, we took the high road and avoided implying that people’s religious beliefs needed to be changed at all. The Rock Beyond Belief event was potentially a real force for changing the military’s climate of intolerance for non-religious and non-spiritual Soldiers. Instead this has turned into the reinforcement of those prejudices.

Additionally, the disparity between the financial support given to the evangelical Christian membership drive, and that offered to our secular festival ($0) is not only offensive, but also fatal to even pulling off our event. We took Fort Bragg at their word when they pledged an equal playing field would be leveled for all groups. For the last five months, we have strung along so many performers with an exciting and unique opportunity, and they have invested a great deal of time, energy, and money to accommodate our schedule. Our own personal fundraising is supposed to cover their travel and honorariums, which we barely scraped together. Significant money was indeed spent on the air fare, and honorarium for one of their guests, as well as hotel arrangements for 39 guests. So when you remove the ‘same level of support’ that the evangelical Christian membership drive event got from government controlled funds, our event can not afford to pay our performers’ hotel bills, and meals, much less afford to build a professional stage and hire electricians. Rock the Fort spent significantly more money on sandwiches and donuts ($7,730) than we requested for the hotels + meals combined. Overall, our event had proposed to spend nearly $15,000 less than the evangelical Christians spent from government controlled funds (approximately $54,500) for nearly identical items.

Finally, the sudden and unexplained venue change is extremely detrimental to our ability to put on a similar event to the evangelical Christian ‘Rock the Fort’ festival. Your letter even points to a fact that we have in common with the Rock the Fort event, that our lineup is primarily speakers and ‘musical performers who are not chart-makers’, confusingly used as justification for differential treatment. Although there are no perfect metrics to compare such radically different types of non-mainstream music, a simple comparison of ‘YouTube’ plays yields a viable method. The numbers from a single musician on our lineup, Roy Zimmerman, completely outshines the evangelical Christian lineup combined, and by a wide margin. If you count regular attendance numbers for our headliner, it’s difficult to find a big enough venue to hold the crowd that Richard Dawkins attracts at public speaking engagements. When I mentioned a short list of his recent audience numbers, you dismissed them as unique only to ‘college towns’. Though, demonstrably untrue, it seems odd to imply that an extremely large and prestigious military base isn’t also a college town. Promotions within the military explicitly depend on civilian education, and the military goes to great lengths to provide a rigorous college experience, rendering Fort Bragg a ‘college town’ in its own right. The post theater that you offered has a maximum capacity of 700, and prevents us from receiving further requested equal treatment, such as the Golden Knights paratroopers jumping at our event, room for vendors and booths, as well as a kiddie-land with rock climbing and bounce houses. None of those things are possible indoors, and a minimum requirement for projected attendance wasn’t even mentioned as a conditional requirement to host an event with a similar level of support.

Currently, the Christian population is the biggest piece of Fort Bragg’s religious demographics. The next largest group of people is the ‘No Religious Preference’ group, a crowd we obviously would have drawn heavily from, and have crafted our event to specifically cater to this group. The previous offer for ‘similar levels of support’ rings especially empty when the very next biggest group in fact does not receive much of any support. The non-religious segment of the military will one day be respected and given equal treatment, but sadly today is not the day.

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.

A major opportunity for good was lost. Friends, guests, bloggers, and proper media have been contacting me for more details on the situation, and I’ve been trying to keep up. If you need to contact me, I will reply as soon as it is possible. Please include a phone number in your email address. To everyone out there that was a part of Rock Beyond Belief, I would like to sincerely thank you. Many of our heroes had agreed to be a part of this, and I have been honored to have a local team so dedicated and talented. I’m not sure where we go from here, but there will be more information posted here as it comes.

Once again, I am not the one that owes you all an apology, but I’m offering one.

***Update 2AM, March 5, 2011***
It seems that many people are asking who they should send letters to. FFRF has graciously put out an action alert that contains a few extremely relevant addresses. I will be cross-posting the alert in a new post when I coordinate with all the other amazingly helpful secular organizations too.  There are a few email addresses in the comments section here as well.

***Update 1130AM, March 7, 2011***
A much more thorough list of things you can do to help out is now posted here.

49 thoughts on “Last minute crippling restrictions forced us to cancel

  1. Bill Whitman

    Sorry this happened but am not surprised. Although it is clear that legally and by Army policy that providing support and opening up a military installation for one requires similar treatment for others, the senior military commanders sometimes do disregard the advice of their Staff Judge Advocates. I hope you are successful in your pursuit and that LTG Helmick is turned around.

  2. Ron Meyer

    I would think that if this were the treatment given to any other group, particularly one of a religous nature, there would be an immediate outcry of ‘discimination.’ It is, in my humble opinion, based entirely on the Garrisnon Comander’s prejudice and bigotry regarding equal standing and protections of beliefs that this country is founded on.
    Jefferson proposed the following for the new Virginia constitution: “All persons shall have full and free liberty of religious opinion; nor shall any be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious institution”: freedom for religion, but also freedom from religion. He also wrote, “I am for freedom of religion and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another.”
    Have we traveled so far from the foundation of this country that a particular denomination of a particualr faith has the power, through the power of finance and ill thought out rescrictions upon another, to deem one sect or thought above another? Is this the kind of person that we should have our brothers, sons, fathers, sisters, daughters and wives follow (into combat); a person so firmly entrenched in religous prejudice that his judgement in all matters must surely be equally erroneous and certainly undemocratic? Is this truly his way of upholding his enlistment pledge to “protect from all enemies, foriegn and domestic” the values that Jefferson had so eloquently espoused?
    Perhaps a more direct involvement from and to the media regarding this blantant discrimination might be in order?

  3. Senior Chief Petty Officer Steve Carleton, USCG

    SGT Justin Griffith,

    I am disappointed to hear of the cancellation of Rock Beyond Belief, I was looking forward to it and even made reservations at the Airborne Inn. I will not cancel the reservations in the hopes that you (we) can find a way to make this event happen.

    I am an avid supporter of your cause and will help out in any way possible. Please feel free to contact me at any time.

    SCPO Carleton

  4. jimm

    It disgusts me that a single tax dollar is spent on any activity promoting any religion. The commander of Fort Bragg is religiously discriminatory and not fit for such a post.

  5. Three Ninjas

    This is an outrage, even more so because no one is surprised. Damn. Justin, I wish there was some way I could help besides sharing the links, but just know that I’ve got your back, for what it’s worth. I know a lot of people do too.

  6. HarryTFS

    Thank you, Justin, for exposing the religious bigotry in the military and doing something about it! I predict you will win in the long run. It is quite obvious that your Garrison Commander was wrong when he/she approved the Evangelical event and he/she is wrong again.

    Hopefully this will help more regular Americans see the ‘evangelical problem’ in the military and we will finally do something about it. There are so many violations going on all over the world and it needs to end.

    Is there somewhere that individuals like me can send a letter or email complaint that might be heard?

  7. beerslayer

    It saddens me almost beyond description that this outcome doesn’t surprise me in the least. I wish I were completely, utterly shocked into silence by this display of intolerance, but I’m not.

    But please don’t lose heart. Tolerance for non-whites didn’t appear overnight in this country, and neither will tolerance for non-Christians. But it *will* happen someday. It is happening now.

    Please don’t let this minor setback become a major one. If not 2011, then perhaps 2012.

  8. Dan Rawlings

    Justin…

    You called their bluff! I cannot write what I truly feel… as it is entirely inappropriate for a rational forum.

    This really makes me mad… if you need any help with anything else let me know, don’t give this up

    PLEASE!

    What is next?

    Dan

  9. satan augustine

    This is pathetic, sickening, blatantly discriminatory, and sad. I’m glad that both the FFRF and the MRFF are getting involved. Legal action is what is needed now. Colonel Sicinsky needs to be keep his beliefs and biases private, lest he end up a Private.

    BTW, was Dawkins going to be speaking at this event? That’s the impression that I got from reading your letter Justin. If so then the proper venue would be a football stadium.; ) As you state, Dawkins draws quite a crowd.

    Good luck! Any chance Dawkins’ Foundation could provide some financial support, while the FFRF and MRFF hold up the legal end?

  10. George Wolf

    The CO who did this is in violation of his oath as an officer to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. He needs to be relieved of command either for willful negligence or gross stupidity.

  11. doug steley

    I would like to know the name and contact details for the officer commanding the officer who made this decision.

    Belief systems aside this is a serious breach of military protocol for an officer to make a promise and then break it without very good reason.

    How are the men and women that officer is supposed to be leading going to trust this person if they show this kind of behaviour ?

    Leadership is about having those who follow you trust you and trust your decisions.

    I would like to send my comments up the chain of command, we have lost enough good service personnel in the last 10 years fighting repressive religious fanatics who are totally intolerant of any other belief ot non belief. We do not need these people commanding troops who are supposed to be fighting for freedom for all.

    I am disgusted and angry at this officers incompetence.

  12. doug steley

    PS I am an old Air Force Person who does not know the web well

    can you email me contact details if they are available

    I may not be able to find my way back here I got here via a facebook post.

  13. Josh

    I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

    Colonel Stephen J. Sicinski (stephen.sicinski@us.army.mil) is only concerned with the last line of his oath he took when he became an officer and not defending the Constitution.

  14. Nicole Schrand

    This is appalling. I wasn’t going to be able to attend anyways, due to prior engagement, but I was still so excited about the exposure that this event was going to bring to the cause. Not to mention that it looked like it was going to be a blast for the people attending!

    I am completely disgusted with the way this has been handled, and will be complaining. Religious discrimination is never acceptable, and is doubly repulsive in government/military institutions.

  15. Keovar

    I was late in hearing about the event, but still, this is disappointing to say the least, not just in the loss of the event, but even more in the rejection of the Constitution that this unequal treatment represents.

    Not to disparage the courage of anyone in the military – I’m a veteran myself – but it seems to me that non-religious soldiers are knowingly putting the only life they have on the line, while religious ones just think they’re risking an early trip to some sort of heaven. Maybe that’s the purpose behind the ‘spiritual fitness’ push to make the military a religious institution? Does the Army really want the same sort of martyr mentality found in some extremist religions?

  16. Keovar

    Sorry for the double post, but for anyone able to make it out to Asheville in Western NC, Sean Faircloth, the Secular Coalition for America Executive Director will be presenting a talk called “One Nation Under the Constitution” on March 25th at 7pm. It’s at Cinebarre in the Biltmore Square Mall (800 Brevard Rd. Asheville, NC 28806). If you want to email me at Keovar(at)gmail(dot)com, I can forward you a copy of the email announcement/invitation.
    Actually, I’ll try to mention what’s happened here with Rock the Fort getting endorsed and Rock Beyond Belief getting rejected.

  17. Raph, ex MN-NG Army

    Sorry to hear this news, it saddens me greatly. But I am heartened by the dedication and effort all the people involved in trying to make this event happen. I truly hope it does, eventually.

    Let us all enjoy the freedom of religion, even if we opt for ‘none’ – the lives laid on the line are no less valuable, let us hope that the base commander can come back to his senses sometime soon.

  18. eric collier

    I commented a little while ago with a question–don’t know if it got through. I’m an old ex-marine officer (69-73). I was a devout non-believer then, which put me at odds with most of my colleagues, but we could discuss it like gentlemen. I am horrified at how far we have fallen since then. I must ask again: has there been any officer involvement in your wonderful effort? Every time an officer is mentioned in one of these stories its some christofascist jerk breaking up meetings or disapproving events.

    1. Justin Griffith Post author

      I replied to your previous comment on the ‘Al Stefanelli Joins the Lineup’ post, shortly after you asked.

      “Yes and no. We have three officers joining the team in the last two months on the planning committee, but all of us are doing this in our off-duty capacity. In fact, I am under standing order not to work on any of this during duty hours, despite it being an official event at Fort Bragg. This is also despite the fact that the offensive ‘rock the fort’ event had 50+ people working on their evangelical Christian Spiritual Fitness event during the duty day, many of whom for well over six months. We have all the email traffic they generated, once again using official email addresses, timestamped etc, ever since the FOIA documents were released. I’m not exactly getting the ‘samey samey’ vibe so far, and I’m just one guy, not 50+! I’m not an officer, but I am an NCO. Other than myself and the three officers, there are no other Soldiers on the all-volunteer crew. Additionally we have a handful of dedicated civilians helping in the effort.”

      As far as meetings go, I’ve been the only soldier on our team at any of them in the last few months. This is due to the fact that they are generally during the duty day and all of the complications of scheduling around that. In the very beginning, one of the officers on the team was shot down with her proposal. That was the first of many packets we submitted, until late December when they started taking us seriously. Before that, the general response was a hand waiving “Get out of here kid, you are bothering me.”

  19. Becky Glynn

    Justin – Just to let you know that we non-believing, non-military folks out here in the bible belt of Texico (Texas/Mexico) are so proud to call you brother – one of our own.
    I know this didn’t work out, but I am so very proud of you and everyone else involved. This takes a lot more courage than even most in the military have. Thank you for your solid work.

  20. Andrew watkins

    I agree with everyone else that it is not surprising but also very sad. I could only imagine if they tried to do thi at my current post Ft.Campbell KY I feel they would get the same treatment. Religion takes a front seat in the army for some reason, the government has repealed the “Dont ask Dont Tell” but they still leave a minority left behind which is the non-religious. However they managed to get *million dollars to build a new Chapel.

  21. Miss K.

    So you all are upset that your “free” event won’t be funded by my tax dollars? And you are claiming that you are not a counter event to some religious event that went on in the same place even though you continue to criticize and slam this other event. Sounds like sour grapes to me. I don’t believe my tax dollars should be spent on religous or non-religous entertainment events anywhere. If you are so convinced that your message and the people who represent your message are so “hot” then put your show on at a different venue and sell tickets. Or you could get several sponsors to underwrite the expenses. But maybe you don’t embrace capitalism like I do. When I was left with 2 kids no support and no job I started my own company and ended up working with the most famous people in the world as a backstage/production specialist. When I copro-ed an event to raise money for a local pediatric AIDS foundation,(I wanted to help the helpless) I got a lot of inkind support from many organizations who couldn’t or wouldn’t send money. I also received product donations from some famous people which were auctioned off for $$’s. The bands at the event traded their performances for a few drinks and ACT-UP NYC sent a film that had been shown at an event at the Guggenheim Museum a year prior. The venue gave us the night for free. No one was asked for a dime except the attendees who were charged $5 at the door and the silent auction costs $2 for 1 ticket& $3 for 5. In fact I suggested that should anyone want to make an additional donation they make the check directly out to the charity. My event raised $500 for this local charity and a shopping bag full of beanie babies. However a few thousand additional dollars were donated directly to the charity by several citizens. I did not take my “expenses” out first. I also did not criticize anyone or any entity because they didn’t live up to my opinion of a commitment. I am tired of people with their own narrow-minded pro or con agenda using the non-profit/501C3 rap to support their cause. Non-profit just means that you have to spend it all before the end of the tax-year. To see you complain about the cost of their donuts versus your entertainment’s hotel expenses churns my stomach.

    1. Justin Griffith Post author

      Thank you for commenting on my website, I do encourage open and honest discussion. You are speaking from an uninformed point of view. I basically believe that we are in agreement about everything. We have said from the start that neither of our events should have been funded at all. It is not the governments place to endorse any large scale membership drive (rock the fort) or tolerance-raising event (ours) when it comes to religion. That is a private matter, and has no bearing on how ‘fit’ a soldier is.

      So you all are upset that your “free” event won’t be funded by my tax dollars?

      We are upset about being lied to about the justification for not cancelling the evangelical Christian mega-membership drive “willing and able to provide similar levels of support to any other event” Also, we weren’t pursuing your tax-dollars. We were hoping to tap into one of the many non-appropriated funds for the things outlined in this article. MWR has a non-appropriated fund that they solicit fundraising to all of the local businesses, philanthropists, and regular donors etc. Or, we could tap into the CTOF fund that the Rock the Fort event claims to (though this is not entirely clear). Either way, check your facts first.

      And you are claiming that you are not a counter event to some religious event that went on in the same place even though you continue to criticize and slam this other event.

      We are claiming that we are not *Just* a counter event. That we are not anti-religious, anti-christian, or anti-anything. We are simply raising tolerance and awareness for the military’s second largest religious demographic: “No Religious Preference”. You are twisting both the meaning and the script of the words I wrote about the other event. 99% of the content on this site is completely not about the Rock the Fort event at all. I only bring it up because it is contextually relevant in a much bigger way now that the Army has broken their promise (bluff) to support all other groups equally (once again, not our preferred situation either). But they aren’t even ‘willing or able’ to do this. It’s special favors for the proselytizers at the Billy Graham Evangelical Association and crippling limitations for the next biggest piece of the pie.

      Sounds like sour grapes to me.

      I admit, I do get angry when established law and DoD regulations aren’t enough to make justice prevail. Sounds like justifiable anger at discrimination to me.

      I don’t believe my tax dollars should be spent on religous or non-religous entertainment events anywhere.

      AGREED. Too bad that the Army spends tens of millions of dollars on religious (invariably evangelical christian) events, and built a $30 million dollar ‘Spiritual Fitness Center’ / mega-church on Fort hood. And forced Soldiers against their will to attend Christian Rock ‘Spiritual Fitness’ events, and often punished those who didn’t attend. And that’s just for starters. The disastrous Comprehensive Soldier Fitness budget is $121 million for mandatory Spiritual Fitness testing and training (all of which is unconstitutional, Article VI, paragraph 3) Why don’t you look into the various religions and how much appropriated funds are being spent on recruitment efforts for each one, but beware, your small government / capitalist political leanings need to really brace themselves for impact! The total amount should be 0$, but it’s shockingly high. As an active duty soldier, I got the smallest annual pay increase for inflation in over 50 years this year as part of the budget cuts necessary to keep the country going. If I were you, I’d do an about face and scream your rant in the other direction. That’s the side that isn’t listening.

      If you are so convinced that your message and the people who represent your message are so “hot” then put your show on at a different venue and sell tickets. Or you could get several sponsors to underwrite the expenses.

      We were explicitly told not to sell tickets by Fort Bragg (direct order!). And we were told for the last 5+ months that we would be getting the same treatment as the Rock the Fort event (also banned from selling tickets). We definitely wanted MWR to raise funds like they told us they would if the Commander signed his decision letter without all the last-minute crippling restrictions. If not, then certainly the other non-appropriated funds over at the CTOF vehicle would have sufficed just fine. We were basically given the green light for several months, told we were getting everything we asked for, then at the very last possible minute they gave us the middle finger treatment we got.

      But maybe you don’t embrace capitalism like I do.

      Maybe you don’t embrace the constitution, federal regulations, the U.S. Military, and defending the nation like I do. I think that you know damn well that neither of our statements are probably true about each other, but it sure is easy to sound like you’re winning an argument when you call the other guy names. Let’s take a step back and agree to disagree when we have disagreements. Maybe one of us will learn something and change our minds. I love it when I’m wrong about something. It gives me another opportunity to learn, to grow, to be a better person…

      When I was left with 2 kids no support and no job I started my own company and ended up working with the most famous people in the world as a backstage/production specialist. When I copro-ed an event to raise money for a local pediatric AIDS foundation,(I wanted to help the helpless) I got a lot of inkind support from many organizations who couldn’t or wouldn’t send money. I also received product donations from some famous people which were auctioned off for $$’s. The bands at the event traded their performances for a few drinks and ACT-UP NYC sent a film that had been shown at an event at the Guggenheim Museum a year prior.

      Except for the years that my team members have spent fighting wars, our efforts have been very similar… Maybe your experience could be valuable to our movement, and we are obviously in need of help. Also, I’m extremely proud of the fact that every single member of our lineup waved 100% of their honorarium/fee, no booze necessary. We don’t live near any cities with famous people, but many of our guests, including Richard Dawkins even offered to pay their own travel/meal expenses. The VAST majority of the evangelical Christian event’s Donut + Sandwich funds were spent WAY before their event even happened, at their luncheons and shmoozing sessions.

      The venue gave us the night for free.

      Congratulations. We were promised this as well, and I’m not the type to wish ill on you and your cause, so I’m happy that your venue’s offer wasn’t based on lies. If you think that venue didn’t have to pay for their liability insurance, electricity, bartenders, bouncers, parking lot maintenance, wear and tear on equipment, wiring and lighting time and effort, disposables like trashbags napkins cups, dishwashers, water bill for drinks and restrooms, an evening that could have been geared towards profit… then you aren’t a very strong event producer…

      No one was asked for a dime except the attendees who were charged $5 at the door and the silent auction costs $2 for 1 ticket& $3 for 5.

      Again, specifically ordered not to do this. Military is different than your life. Try to put yourself in our shoes for a minute.

      No one was asked for a dime except the attendees who were charged $5 at the door and the silent auction costs $2 for 1 ticket& $3 for 5. In fact I suggested that should anyone want to make an additional donation they make the check directly out to the charity. My event raised $500 for this local charity and a shopping bag full of beanie babies. However a few thousand additional dollars were donated directly to the charity by several citizens.

      We were going to be sitting on a surplus of our fundraising efforts (to pay for air fares and honorariums, as was the agreement all along, and as the evangelical Christian event was treated.) 100% of the remainder was to be given to charity as well, and we were looking at significantly more $ than you describe being donated in the end (including the late-coming donors). This is an odd pissing contest we’re having. Let’s just respect each other as philanthropists, no?

      I did not take my “expenses” out first.

      If you didn’t budget the costs beforehand, you are extremely under-prepared to produce a large scale event like the one we were planning…

      I also did not criticize anyone or any entity because they didn’t live up to my opinion of a commitment.

      You also did not get shut down by your venue, and shoved into one 5% of its size (imagine doing your event in the janitor’s closet at whatever venue you were at). You also did not find yourself being discriminated against for religious reasons. Your event also did not receive all the other last minute crippling restrictions, such as a refusal to solicit funding on our behalf, or to let us use the many other Non-appropriated methods of funding events that already exist.(read: NOT TAXPAYER $)

      I am tired of people with their own narrow-minded pro or con agenda using the non-profit/501C3 rap to support their cause. Non-profit just means that you have to spend it all before the end of the tax-year.

      That’s weird because you are the only person here who seems to have had a 501c3 agenda, though I support AIDS research. We are local volunteers, most of us Soldiers / spouses of soldiers. We have been passionately working on this on an all-volunteer basis for 5+ months. We had worked to have a 501c3 ‘sponsored project’ status ready to go if necessary, but that was not our piece of the pie at all, and we never obtained that official sponsorship status (though we could at the drop of a hat). We only want to exist as a TEMPORARY entity, not a recurring or persistent thing that a 501c3 foundation would be.

      To see you complain about the cost of their donuts versus your entertainment’s hotel expenses churns my stomach.

      To see you complain about our careful, by-the-book planning efforts, and to so woefully misunderstand the situation as a whole hurts my brain. I sincerely hope that you are a big enough person to admit when you are wrong about something, as sometimes does seem to happen on this blog’s comment section. But most of the time, people pick a side and go with it despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary. I am able to back up everything I’ve said about our intentions, efforts, and hard work, as well as everything I’ve said about the conditions in the military, and the treatment we’ve received from the Garrison Commander. You should really look into the issues that I’m bringing up here, every other person is shocked by them. You really should be too. I’d love to welcome you as an ally in our defense of the separation of church and state, and I hope that even if we have to agree to disagree, you would be able to support our position as defenders of the constitution. That document defines our nation, and the modern concept of freedom as we know it (worldwide). Please don’t refer to me as being a narrow-minded agenda-driven 501c3 schemer. I’m much more than that, and I’m extremely proud of all of the people that I serve with.

  22. Paul Weaver

    SGT Griffith,

    I’m an active-duty SFC stationed at Ft Drum (disclaimer – my comments are entirely my own, and do not represent official Army positions). Just heard this report from a variety of websites, including Rational Skepticism. I’m disappointed that the Command at Ft Bragg chose this course of action. I’d like to say I’m surprised, but after my experience with command-supported evangelical Christian crap during my years at Bragg, I’m not.

    You have a lot of people watching this unfold, and working to try to make the Ft Bragg Command follow regulations and policies to provide equal support for non-religious Soldiers. Keep up the good work, and let us all know if there’s anything we can do to help.

    Sincerely,
    Paul Weaver

  23. John Wood

    As a military officer and athiest, I find this turn of events extremely unfortunate. I’m don’t know what factors went into Col Sicinki’s decision, but can only say that if his response was primarily motivated by his own possibly negative feelings about Rock Beyond Belief, he should be ashamed of himself. Good luck with any legal appeals or formal complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commissions.

  24. Chris

    (not sure if this has been covered) –
    Having been a U.S. Marine, I’m not sure if the Army is the same, but I believe so — to whit, EVERY soldier, whether enlisted or officer takes an oath to “…protect and
    defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic…”

    That being so, this officer needs to resign his commission or, at the very least, face U.C.M.J. (Uniform Code of Military Justice) proceedings for dereliction of duty.

    That’s how this should play out. An officer (or any American soldier) who willfully disregards his oath of service should be penalized for that. Loss of pay, loss of rank, etc.

    Yes, this whole thing is about religion and prejudice…but more than that is the treasonous conduct of this officer. Treasonous? Oh, yes…if you’ve committed to upholding the Constitution and willfully work against it, that equals TREASON!

  25. David

    I am not surprised about the out come. I was at Ft Lee a couple of years ago for a school before deployment,and I was kicked out the graduation rehearsal because I would not bow my head in prayer. The instillation Chaplin got involved and forced the school house to let me take part in the graduation.
    The military has become a religious fighting force and wants to push any of us out that are not of the same faith as they are.

    1. Justin Griffith Post author

      Sadly, there are more and more feeling this way. An anonymous guest post from an extremely disenfranchised atheist is hitting this site tomorrow morning. (no it isn’t me). I’m never going to let them get me down. We were *SO CLOSE* this time man. We are on the brink of breaking through to acceptance. We are going to try and try again until we’ve exhausted every opportunity we’ve got.

  26. Melissa G

    I am so saddened to hear about the loss of this event. But I am beyond thrilled to hear that such amazing people like you and your volunteers are serving this country in the military– you make me proud to be an American! It is my sincere hope that, as close as you came to victory this year, next year will see us all through to equal treatment for all soldiers, regardless of belief or unbelief!!! I will add my voice to that of the letter-writers protesting your event’s treatment at Ft. Bragg. Everyone should be outraged at this violation of the Constitution.

  27. Jeremy

    Let’s see, the government is undergoing continuing resolution. Governement employees might not get paid if the budget is not resolved, government services are being cut back to help balance the budget, non-essential military civilians are being fired because operating budgets are being slashed, MWR activities are being canceled, military moves are being postponed with tour lengths getting longer, official travel for government employees has been cut, and you’re upset that your event got cancelled? How stupid would this base commander look if he blew $50K on a concert event but had to let go some of the blue collar base employees? He would be torn apart by the media. Stop being selfish.

    1. Justin Griffith Post author

      I’ve stated several times that we were seeking non-appropriated funds (NAF… not tax payer) to mirror exactly how the other event was handled. The ‘security costs’ were approved and for Rock the Fort that was $30,000 of APPROPRIATED (tax payer) funds. There were several opportunities / methods to fund our event without using these budgets you are talking about. You clearly don’t know what you are talking about with regards to MWR activities. Those are NON-APPROPRIATED FUNDS, and are entirely not driven by tax dollars or budget cuts. They are paid for by soliciting the regular donors, local businesses who wish to advertise on base or at the events, and the cut from the vendors such as beer sales etc. They do this all the time, and on every big base it’s a routine thing.

      All these questions and more were answered specifically in a recent interview on a conservative talk radio show here:

      http://www.youtube.com/my_playlists?p=009BFF3F9A2CAE90

      Stop being so disastrously misinformed.

      I assume you are Marine Corps / Navy. I respect your service, and respect your religious preference, whatever it may be. This is about the separation of church and state, and about special privilege for the evangelical Christian membership drives that were spreading across the country. In the Army, we swear an oath to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution. I do not take that oath lightly.

  28. Jeremy

    Did you really delete my comment? How dishonest. You’re going through and deleting comments that don’t support your view in an attempt to make it look like everyone is on your side.

    Makes me wonder how biased your version of the above story is…

    1. Justin Griffith Post author

      No. I’m not doing that at all. In fact the day after I posted the article you commented on, I did an entire post about a reply to a person who ‘didn’t get it’ and accused me of being a communist, etc… I posted her comment in full here, and again on the post. You should read it.

      http://rockbeyondbelief.com/2011/03/06/but-maybe-you-dont-embrace-capitalism-like-i-do/

      It goes into great detail about all of the issues you raised, and many many more. I don’t expect apologies or anything. I never get them from drive-by commenters who don’t even take the time to read anything further to see if their questions are already answered.

      I do however, save them for last in the approval queue for comments. It’s too easy to respond and demolish every troll / legitimate question / misconception, but it is time consuming. That’s why you weren’t approved yet. You were too lazy to read anything further, and commenting on a post 2 weeks after it was written. It’s not even on the front page anymore.

      I encourage open and frank discussion here, so your further comments wont need approval for now. Please use discretion when commenting here in the future, it is entirely likely that your question is already answered, and quite thoroughly so. Read / listen to the stuff I posted in my replies to you before replying again. Unless of course you weren’t actually interested in learning the answers to your questions.

  29. CH (LTC-R) David Druckenmiller

    Rock for TRUTH!
    I am writing this response to rebut the ongoing untruth spoken to your audience! You should be ashamed of yourself for lying! Oh, maybe you think it is ok to lie and twist truth because you do not believe in God. There is a God, His name is Jehovah. He created all things and you will bend a knee someday and your foolishness will be your folly.
    I consider you and those you mislead either willingly ignorant or aggressively misleading! Your stand is against the Constitution of the United States of America. I just retired from military after serving almost 34 years. The last 21+ years I served with honor as an Army Chaplain. I just retired from Fort Bragg and I was one of the leading chaplain staff members that organized and supported “Rock the Fort!” Yes, I was there and I am aware of the issues.
    I am now just an American Citizen (Retired) that is concerned about the pervasive misleading and twisting of facts to support your agenda. You sir, are lying to others! Shame on you!
    The fact is that the American Constitution is clear about the government not establishing a specific religion but allows freedom of religion. Every religious person has the right to practice and express individual and corporate faith. The Supreme Court verified in 1985 that Chaplains are required to serve in the military because Soldiers give up certain freedoms and voluntarily place self under the authority necessary for military operational needs. However, the Constitution is clear about the government not restricting the free exercise of faith. Because the Constitution clearly states that the government cannot establish a specific faith and it cannot restrict the free exercise. The only truth that applies is that no religion has the right to violate moral law!
    Government cannot make laws against religious faith! Government cannot restrict the practice of faith! This means anyone! However, no person has the right to violate the moral laws that we swear to protect and defend in the Constitution. The enemies of the Constitution are always trying to restrict and change the intent.
    As an Evangelical, Ordained Baptist Pastor, I have the right to practice my faith, even when I was on Active Duty Military. I preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Immanuel = God with us, every Sunday and opportunity I could. I shared my faith and I intellectually challenged others to consider the message of the Gospel! This is a primary tenant of evangelical faith!
    I never forced anyone to believe and I never coerced any one to attend a program. Only invitation and discussion was used to share with others. Evangelicals have this right just like anyone else! In fact the largest demographic of religious faith in the military and in the American civilian world is Christianity based upon Evangelical Faith. Baptist alone, when all Baptist groups come together, is the largest by far. Our Catholic brothers and sisters of Christian faith normally make up about 20+% of any given military community. Baptists are normally above 50+% and other Evangelical Christians such as Pentecostal and some Protestant denominations raise the average Christian population by name to over 80%.
    There is a category called “No Religious Preference” in the military used in the ADHOC report. This is not an atheist category, but might include some atheist. The truth is many in this category do not want to share what his/her faith denomination is, but more often the person is of Christian background.
    All other faith groups break down into a small percentage. Even atheists who are not religious because they do not believe in God or any higher power, are only a fraction. In fact, my opinion about this new group trying to obtain religious status in the military as Non-Theists, is wrong. Atheists do not believe in God! They are trying to redefine religion as only philosophy and ideology without the presence of the divine.
    There is no such thing as Non-theism as a religion. Historically the word religion meant that there was a divine presence or God. Religion = “people’s beliefs and opinions concerning the existence, nature, and worship of a deity or deities, and divine involvement in the universe and human life” “an institutionalized or personal system of beliefs and practices relating to the divine” Encarta Dictionary.
    Non-Theism is really “Self-Theism.” You think you are your own god. I look forward to this debate later.
    Returning to the original purpose for my address! You have not spoken the truth. The money spent on the Evangelical program, “Rock the Fort,” was money that was given through the Christian Chapels as offerings. The primary funding was donations by Evangelical Christians, to include the “Billy Graham Association.” (BGA) Many of the Evangelicals associate and fellowship with Billy Graham.
    This program, “Rock the Fort,” was sponsored by the Fort Bragg Chaplains! It was a Chapel program – not a Billy Graham program. As a civilian Evangelical organization, the BGA volunteered to assist and support. So your statement to your audience about federal money spent is not true.
    Raise your own money! Instead you are trying to take money donated by Christians to promote your ideology. Raise your own money. To do anything else is stealing!
    Now, it is true that support services were provided to make this event safe! Military police were on duty to ensure security and safety of the participants. However, the list of money you show in this format I address tries to show tax money being used and this is not true. Shame on you!
    Also, the idea which you try to portray to others, the same as some liberal media agenda, that Soldiers were coerced/forced to attend this program is a lie. As CNN twisted the facts by using all photos from other posts and programs to portray the Chaplains at Fort Bragg as building an Army for God against Islam. Not one photo used was from Fort Bragg when CNN interviewed the Garrison Chaplain. In fact, I refused the interview with CNN because I have never trusted their reporting.
    The program, “Rock the Fort,” was a concert sponsored by the Chaplains at Fort Bragg to celebrate our faith. Everyone was invited! Even local churches were invited because the majority of our Soldiers do attend off post churches. This was an opportunity to share with our local ministries and to provide information to Soldiers and Families about services provided – to benefit them! Benefit the Soldiers who sacrificially serve this great nation! I was the Chaplain that walked around to every booth set up to make sure that no one was violating the policies. No one was forced to listen or to take information. Almost every organization was giving things to Soldiers to be a blessing!
    Issues you state and my rebuttal:
    1. You were not able to use the same funding as Evangelicals. If you think that you can use donated offerings given in Christian Worship services to promote your atheism, you are diluted. In fact this would be illegal! Raise your own support.
    2. The restrictions you speak of were also placed upon the Evangelical Christians! The staffing of this event did go through some transformation from concept to execution and the great commanders at Fort Bragg were directly involved and the chapel staff did everything right. This means even the adjustment of ideas and proposals from concept until the first moment of engagement. In fact just minutes from the first concert performance, the commanders gave clear guidance on mission intent and purpose, which everyone involved in this event followed.
    I do want to say that the XVIII Air Born CORPS Commander and the Garrison Commander are both great men and great leaders!!! They did what a commander should do! I am disappointed at higher levels of leaders who cow-towed to the forces that want to stop the freedom of religious expression in any area of society. These more senior leaders should be taking the stand to protect the Constitutional Rights of Soldiers and Families in the military.
    3. You were given the same opportunity as the Evangelical Chaplains. You just did not raise your money. The FOYA information is twisted by your group. No Federal tax money was used for the program. Only support that would be given any program on post approved by the commander, which is security and transportation of the already chapel programs and chaplains. Your group was offered this and you could not come up with your support money. Take an offering from your atheist friends!!! Raise your own money. Do not steal from others!
    4. Your statement about the legal recommendation is also light years from telling the truth. I sat in briefings with the legal officers as this was discussed. The same treatment is the same treatment. If you hade the support from your atheist buddies and could raise the money like the Evangelical Christians, you could have had your concert. What is it called? “Rock Beyond Belief,” or maybe “Rock in Stupidity.” The scripture declare that the fool says in his heart there is no God. (Psalms 1) Scripture has been and still is the best seller! More good is accomplished by people of faith than those who are self-theists = atheist.
    Well I could go on and on. I am sure I will because my faith calls me to a public voice. Shame on you and all those who are deceiving others into believing anything but the truth. Your false agenda will catch up with you when you stand before the God of Heaven who spoke and the world was created.
    There is a God and you will answer to Him someday.
    Chaplain (Retired Army) David Druckenmiller
    “The truth will set you free!”

    1. Justin Griffith Post author

      This wall of text is failure that is epic in scope, worthy of a front page post. I’ll respond to the entire thing line by line later today. You DO realize that you are commenting on a many-months old post? The situation has changed quite a bit. I’m deeply offended at the way you attack non-believers so vehemently, especially when the Garrison Chaplain and many other Chaplains are working so closely with me on other projects. You are wrong. And I’m about to show you why.

      1. Justin Griffith Post author

        David Druckenmiller:
        My reply is up here: http://rockbeyondbelief.com/2011/05/15/rock-the-fort-chaplain-is-from-the-moon-writes-foxhole-atheist-a-letter/

        Interested readers:
        I cleaned up the formatting for reposting / excerpting, especially when sending via email. You can grab the PDF here.

        I know it’s a little long, but I highly recommend sticking through it. You’ll get a really good idea of the kind of situations, environments and overall atmosphere that we struggle with in the foxhole atheist community. We’ve got a momentum, and it’s time to use it to affect positive change. Thanks for your interest and thanks for your support.

    2. Carl

      > David Druckenmiller
      > May 14, 2011 at 12:26 pm
      > There is a God, His name is Jehovah.

      Jewish/Christian scholars lack agreement on that particular name.

      But before you even get to that point, you need to sift through all of these other gods:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_deities

      There is a God, His name is Zeus.

      There is a God, His name is Thor.

      There is a God, and Mohamed is His prophet.

      There is a pound of gold under my mattress!.

      Not so hard to say stuff like that, is it? It is hard to test the first several declarations, but I can personally testify that the last declaration failed to come true just because I said it. I suppose I could teach children to recite my moronic belief in the pound of gold. Maybe that would make me feel better.

    3. Mark Levack

      Lt Col Druckenmiller,
      Your semi-literate rant disturbs me greatly. Setting aside your belief in superstition in the absence of any evidence, I find myself very concerned that someone with your evident yearning to live in a theocracy attained the rank of Lt Col in the US Military.
      As a retired senior officer (Major) from the Canadian Air Force, I am perturbed that a senior officer from our closest ally would condone the military’s endorsement of a particular religious belief. This is antithetical to the concept of personal freedom enshrined in the constitutions of both our countries.
      My extensive experience working alongside US military officers has given me a very positive impression of their communication skills and leadership abilities. I assume it is an anomaly of the Chaplaincy that someone with your very poor writing skills could become a Lt Col.

  30. Mike Haubrich

    Well! If! Exclamation! Points! Were! Evidence! of! Truth! I! Would! Be! Convinced! By! This! Comment! Alone!

    If there is a god, though, and I meet him then he will have a lot to answer to me for, because I will have a lot of hard questions about why he is so twisted and hateful as to create a Hell for people that just don’t have the same sort of faith as the chaplain here.

    Keep rockin’, Justin.

  31. David Huber

    Justin, that was a beautiful take down of the “good” chaplain. Job well done. I look forward to rocking beyond belief with you and other like minded individuals. Thank you for your efforts to pull this off, you are an inspiration.

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