If you have been following this website for a while, you have probably noticed the purposeful avoidance of discussing the Rock the Fort controversy. Yes, it’s true that we’d like to stand on our own as an event, and distinguish ourselves as ‘not just a counter-event.’ However, in order to establish this difference, we need to explore exactly what and why the Rock the Fort event was offensive. If we are claiming to take the high road (and we are), we must first explain the low road.
Luckily, many others have already made this commentary in explicit detail. Jason Torpy, president of Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF) was among the first to compile a thorough telling of the debacle.
First, Jason describes the scenario for everyone to catch up (emphasis mine)
On Sep 25th, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association held a concert on the Fort Bragg Main Parade Field. Attendance was published at 10,000, but photos indicate closer to hundreds than thousands. Whatever the size, this event was specifically “evangelical in nature” according to the event site and letters sent to the community by the senior Ft Bragg chaplain. An included “Family Fun Event” has balloons and face painting targeted at children and the “God Rocks” children ministry. The chaplain enthusiastically encouraged members of the local community to attend.
This encouragement by Ft Bragg chaplains to the surrounding area stating the purpose of the event was to bring new church members and to spread Christianity. Chaplains provide secular services for the morale and welfare of the troops, and that includes providing for the free exercise of members. An event of this magnitude promoted by chaplains and held on post, with the stated purpose of bringing in new members breaches the authority of the chaplaincy. The chaplaincy is a support function, and should not engage in government-sponsored marketing of a particular faith message.
Jason summed that up perfectly.
You’ll notice that we have stated quite clearly that Rock Beyond Belief has no interest in bringing in new members, by holding ‘de-conversion’ or ‘de-baptism’ events. Nor are we going to promote any ‘become a non-theist, it’s the only way’ type of message. This is a clear distinction between Rock Beyond Belief and Rock the Fort.
First of all, we respect the beliefs of others, even if we disagree. We have no interest in changing theists beliefs. We only have interest in changing their level of respect for our position.
Second of all, we don’t even think it’s possible to change someone’s religion with a set of logical arguments in a single day. They didn’t reach their religion with a day’s worth of logical arguments. It’s much more than that. It’s cultural, and we respect that.
Jason then touches on a few of the specifics and statistics.
Rock The Fort 2009 at Ft Leonard Wood was the first event of this kind, with 2000 soldiers at the event. The site affirms that 123 attendees were converted at the event. J. Clarke of the Association shows his motivations in recognizing “Boot camp is one of the most … spiritually vulnerable times of a soldier’s life.” Similar reports from the Ft Bragg event will show that Ft Bragg leadership has promoted proselytism on government property and with government resources.
They were converted on stage. That is off-putting to say the least. The MRFF has told me that they received many complaints about this event, and the vast majority were from Christians who ‘weren’t Christian enough’
MAAF’s closing paragraph included this:
The commander suggested that Ft Bragg leadership had properly reviewed the event to ensure it met Constitutional and military standards. We find this to be inaccurate and join partners including the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State to oppose this event.
You should read the article in it’s entirety, it’s quite thorough. The bottom of the post has an invaluable collection of all the official documents (like LTG Helmick’s response to MAAF, MRFF, FFRF, and AU).