Fort Bragg Official: We Support Rock Beyond Belief

Just over a year ago, Colonel Stephen J. Sicinski — Fort Bragg’s Garrison Commander — was delivering the news that Rock Beyond Belief, a celebration for atheists in the military, would be held at a smaller-than-expected venue, would not receive any funding (despite a similar Christian event getting $50,000), and would not endorse the event in any way (despite wholeheartedly endorsing the Christian event).

Those revelations effectively killed the event.

But what a difference a year makes.

Here’s Col. Sicinski now:

Colonel Sicinski explains, “I want to assure you that Fort Bragg will not discriminate against speech on the basis of its viewpoint. Stated another way, I understand and respect that there will be ample discussion about atheism and/or humanism during the festival and that the speakers may criticize organized religion or its practitioners.”

Wow. That’s not just getting out of the way. That’s supporting a really politically tough position. Good for him.

Organizer Justin Griffith appreciates the support:

“… Colonel Sicinski’s written promise to protect statements critical of religion proves that he really does support us.”

That event takes place just one week after the Reason Rally; thousands of Foxhole Atheists, friends, and family members are expected to attend.

I don’t usually get nervous in front of a crowd, but this may be the most intimidating group of people I’ll ever speak in front of…

***Update***: The commenters who say no taxpayer money was spent on the Christian event are lying:



About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

     this may be the most intimidating group of people I’ll ever speak in front of

    Why?

  • SeniorSkeptik

     HALLELUJAH HALLELUJAH,  the Colonel has seen the light! :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=591058715 Thomas Farrell

    > I don’t usually get nervous in front of a crowd, but this may be the most intimidating group of people I’ll ever speak in front of…

    I’ve spoken in front of military groups before, and the only difference is that since they’re trained to shut up and pay attention, they’re the most attentive audience you’ll ever get.

  • http://www.christianfighterpilot.com/blog JD

    despite a similar Christian event getting $50,000…

    Your statement is factually incorrect.  The money for Rock the Fort came from Christian congregations taking up collections.  Are you trying to suggest the Christian congregations were obligated to support this event?

    Rock Beyond Belief got its money, too, from Stiefel, who made a singular donation of $50,000.  Where’s the discrimination in making the event pay for itself, just like the other one did?

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      Yet FFRF’s Freedom of Information Act request to Fort Bragg yielded responses showing at least $52,475 was directly spent on the evangelical event including 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, etc., were not disclosed. FFRF has appealed its FOIA request because Fort Bragg was partially unresponsive and unclear in its FOIA response.

      http://ffrf.org/news/releases/ffrf-objects-to-fort-braggs-discrimination-against-nonreligious/ To be painfully accurate, Hemant  should probably say “$50,000 in good and services” or something.  That is, RTF didn’t receive $50K in cash, and they did raise funds from other sources.  But the fact is RBB received minimal support and roadblocks, in stark contrast to what RTF received. 

      • http://www.christianfighterpilot.com/blog JD

        Your quote says “by the Religious Support Office…”  That’s money from the collection plate.  Other “services,” like security, RBB has received.

        So, again, where’s the mistreatment?

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          If all financial support for RTF was private (or any public funds equally offered to RBB) then that’s good to hear.  That wasn’t my understanding of things last year, but you’re obviously closer to it than me.  Maybe Justin will clarify.

          The $50K wasn’t the only source of dispairity however.  RBB also faced a changing (and shrinking) venue and strange “performer assurance” requirements.

          It’s great that there appears to be equal treatment.  It would have been nice if it had appeared that way last year.

          • http://www.christianfighterpilot.com/blog JD

            Contrary to implications, nothing from the Army side has changed since last year.  The funding, logistics, etc, has all changed on the organizer’s side, not the Army’s.  The venue was an offer by Bragg due to RBB’s lack of funds, since they’d demonstrated no ability to pay for the equipment required for the parade field.  Once they got money, they were offered the field.

            The statements of intent had no real impact on the event.  The Army approved the event last year before its own organizers decided to cancel/un-cancel it.  Still, it’s understandable to ask a 20-year-old to show Madonna is really going to come to his party before you schedule a limited government resource to support it.  Rock the Fort didn’t have that problem, because they had a history of successful event planning.

        • Anonymous

          The RSO receives both congregants’ contributions and a Congressional appropriation for operating funds. I would suspect funding for nonsectarian events comes from the latter, rather than designated contributions from a particular faith.

          • http://www.christianfighterpilot.com/blog JD

            Your suspicion would be incorrect.  The money came from the chapel tithes and offerings fund (CTOF).  This is all public information.  You don’t need to assume the worst; Hemant is simply incorrect.

            http://christianfighterpilot.com/blog/2011/03/09/rock-beyond-belief-the-truth-comes-out/

            • Anonymous

              Actually, I am correct, as your self-serving link itself shows.

              You simply said RSO funding is “money from the collection plate.” It is not only that, as I already said.

              I specifically stated that “nonsectarian events” are likely to be paid for out of general funds, rather than a particular faith’s contributions; and the Fayetteville Observer article to which your blog links quoted SIcinski as saying the RSO does pay for one big annual concert, I believe on July 4.

              In short, the segregation of funds is exactly as I suggested.

              • http://www.christianfighterpilot.com/blog JD

                The RSO does not pay for the annual 4th of July event.  You’re mixing up organizations.

  • http://www.christianfighterpilot.com/blog JD

    The commenters who say no taxpayer money was spent on the Christian event are lying…

    Wow, poor form.  Who are the multiple people who said “no taxpayer money was spent?”

    Since you’re now quoting an estimate of security costs, what are the security costs for Rock Beyond Belief?  After all, you’re trying to say the Christians got something the atheists didn’t, so where’s the proof of disparity?

    Alternatively, you might consider saying nice things about the efforts the Army has taken to support the event and stop trying to come up with an excuse to play the role of “the repressed.”

    • laloca

      oh, they’re definitely repressed.  it’s what most religions do to their adherents.  but they’re certainly not being oppressed by anyone, least of all the Army.

  • Chris Rodda

    Just so everybody knows, JD is Air Force Major Jonathan C. Dowty, and it was actually his obsession with stopping Rock Beyond Belief that led to getting the statement from Colonel Sicinski. This all happened because JD’s mechanations completely backfired. You can read about it in this little post I wrote the other day over at Freethought Blogs thanking JD for being such an obsessive busybody!

    “Thank You Major Jonathan Dowty for Making it Possible for Rock Beyond Belief to be Openly Critical of Religion”http://freethoughtblogs.com/rodda/2012/03/12/thank-you-major-jonathan-dowty-for-making-it-possible-for-rock-beyond-belief-to-be-openly-critical-of-religion/

    If you want a little more info on JD and his crusade against atheists and other non-Christians in the military, read this other post him:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/rodda/2011/11/04/atheist-army-sergeant-unleashes-on-the-bully-known-as-jd-the-christian-fighter-pilot/

    • Drew M.

       Oh wow. He’s really a pilot? Judging by his blog and posts here, I thought he was some couch-dwelling Walter Mitty.

  • BenFromCA

    As could have been expected, you’ll note that JD provides a reference to the Christian Fighter Pilots web site to verify his claims.  The Christian Fighter Pilot is a military faith-head who has been trying to scuttle the Faith Beyond Belief effort since its inception.
    It’s hard to blame these folks though, for their fervent attempt to refute such allegations.  It must be emotionally draining to be constantly confronted with the evidence of bigotry, intolerance and hypocrisy in one’s own religious practices and institutions.  Imagine how you would feel if you had been sold a bill of goods (the bibble and the whole creation/eternal life story) and had invested huge amounts of your time, energy and money in the community promoting this belief system only to discover that it was a fundamentally flawed invention of men with no basis in fact or reality.  The cognitive dissonance asssociated with such a revelation must be devastating; the need to rationalize, overwhelming.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/April-Garland/1729141321 April Garland

    Comment I posted on the Fort Bragg Facebook page after futile discussions with Chuck Williams, post Chaplin: 

    I was messaging a Fort Bragg chaplin, Chuck Williams, who takes umbrage
    at the Atheist “Rock Beyond Belief” event on base. He walks with an open
    mouth, deaf ears. He is angry about the event choices of speakers &
    musicians, noting that he has ‘studied’ them and found them obscene
    & otherwise lacking. When I gave my interpretation of the lyrics, I
    was dismissed. When I suggested that he take an impartial
    stance on the event, attend & learn to improve his interfaith
    communications, that was one straw; then I suggested he better spend his
    efforts to deny others the right to free speech on Westboro Baptist
    Church…I opined the Christian movement to have the event stamped out
    failed…I guess it WAS true-he blocked me. A note to Chuck:
    take them as accusations if you will, but it shows your defensive
    stance; search your heart-it is YOU who is lacking here. It is not YOUR
    call, it’s is God’s to choose who does His True Will: Matthew 12:50. As
    Chaplin, I find your lack of this INTEGRAL RESPONSIBILITY to reach out
    to ALL the soldiers under your guidance, in a caring manner NO MATTER
    WHAT LACK OF/FAITH, disheartening #Rebuked #LessonTaught

    I am not a Christian by faith, nor am I Atheist, but I will be DAMNED if I’ll sit back & watch this happen. Not in my lifetime!


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