***Update***: Justin has started a website about the “Ft. Bragg Freedom Festival” — it includes a potential line-up of speakers.
There’s been an uproar lately about how an Evangelical Christian event took place at the military base at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The problem is that military leaders were using their positions to promote this event, and that’s simply unconstitutional.
Americans United for Separation at Church and State explained the problem this way:
The “Rock the Fort” event at Fort Bragg this weekend targets both military personnel and adults and children in the surrounding community for conversion to Christianity. This clearly violates the separation of church and state, attorneys with Americans United informed Army officials in a letter (PDF) today.
“It’s not the Army’s job to convert Americans to Christianity,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “This event is totally unacceptable and must be canceled.
On June 2, a letter from the chaplain’s office at Fort Bragg was issued to local churches. The letter, signed by Chaplain David Hillis, urges clergy to take part in the event and notes that it will take “the Christian message to all of Fort Bragg and the surrounding community!” The letter goes on to state that the event is “evangelistic in nature” and that it “will conclude with a clear Gospel message.”
“The Army has no business entering into a partnership with evangelical churches to help them win new members,” Lynn said. “I urge Army officials to stop this event and make sure no more take place. In addition, the military must end its relationship with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.”
The event went on, anyway.
I received an email from Specialist Justin Griffith, who is stationed at Fort Bragg. He was initially hesitant, but ultimately courageous enough, to sign his name to this message. He’s now working on an event of his own…
Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, home of the famous 82nd Airborne and Special Operations units, was recently the host to an evangelical Christian rock concert. There are about 45,000 people stationed at the base, many of whom are atheist and agnostic soldiers. I am one those soldiers, and I am personally offended at last weekend’s “Rock the Fort” concert organized by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
[The Post Commander] Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick wrote that he’s confident the planned “Rock the Fort” event doesn’t infringe on anyone’s freedoms.
“I have taken steps to ensure that no soldier in my command is pressured in any way to attend this event,” wrote Helmick, commander of the 18th Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg.
I personally received several e-mails from my command inviting me to attend this meeting, and I also received numerous verbal invitations. I am the (not so) proud owner of several flyers and posters that were printed up and handed out to all of the soldiers who attended various events around the post. I’m having a hard time understanding how this event isn’t proselytizing to soldiers, family members, and the local population, which is a strict violation of ethics and even the Chaplaincy’s own rules.
Our goal is to organize and promote an event to be held at Ft. Bragg with the same level of support, just like the “Rock the Fort” evangelical Christian event held on 9/25/10. Please join this group and help us plan an event for Skeptics, Free-Thinkers, Agnostics, Atheists, and those who just want to enjoy a day FREE from religion.
Helmick also wrote that Bragg would provide the same opportunity to non-Christian religious groups that want to host similar events.
We are planning to take LTG Helmick up on his word. Please help us out!
We are just brainstorming at this point, and we would like to encourage participation from everyone in the community. We will be holding more meet-ups in the future to refine our approach and to recruit as many like-minded freethinkers as possible. For now, please post your ideas and any areas you’d be willing to contribute. We need entertainment, vendors, sponsors… and most of all we need the expertise of those who have successfully organized and produced a large public festival. Please use this group as a forum for discussion and networking. Thanks!
My personal dream lineup for the event would include They Might Be Giants, Bad Religion, Spoonboy, Jeffrey Lewis, and Tim Minchin handling the music, and a roster of speakers from the blogosphere, lithosphere, and various pro-science (NAS and the NCSE) and separation of church and state groups (ACLU, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation), student organizations like the Secular Student Alliance, and the UNCG Atheists handling the prose. Please help spread the word far and wide, because this will be the first event of its kind held on one of the largest and most famous military bases in the US.
SPC Justin Griffith
While I’d rather the Christian groups stop proselytizing, I think this would be a terrific way to respond.