Foxhole Atheist Organizer on Talk Radio Taking the Heat

Raleigh, North Carolina’s 680 AM, (WPTF) Talk Radio and news station invited me on the air yesterday for what was supposed to be a six minute segment. Due to popular demand, it turned into an entire hour.

The switchboards were going crazy and I was fielding phone calls from, let’s be honest here, not a very sympathetic crowd. The back and forth was respectful, but I was surprised at many of the things I was hearing. This was my first time going out into not-so-friendly territory, though the hosts Rick and Donna Martinez were cordial. Donna seemed to play devil’s advocate a bit more, but by the end of it I think I had Rick convinced that the Army did indeed open a Pandora’s Box with Rock the Fort.

After trimming the commercials and weather/traffic updates, there are 30 minutes of pretty heated debate that played out over the airwaves yesterday. This is my first attempt at a YouTube video, but I was told that it was compelling enough to warrant sharing with you all.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZK4IKDcY2E

Part 2: ‘Talk Radio’ crowd asks me questions. Heated, but mutually respectful.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8QKNNgDzl0

Part 3: More questions, plus I think I won co-host Rick Martinez over to much of what I was saying about the controversy.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwU0nRhp2Xw

By now you should all be familiar with the story so far:

September 25th, 2010: Rock the Fort – An Evangelical Christian membership drive gets a massive amount of support and a ringing endorsement from the Fort Bragg hosts and co-sponsors. This event was heavily contested and was only not canceled because “Fort Bragg would be willing and able to provide similar levels of support to comparable events…

September 26th, 2010: Rock Beyond Belief starts planning to take them up on this offer of a similar level of support. Though we are decidedly not doing a membership drive, and we are also not putting on an ‘anti-christian’ or ‘anti-religion’ or ‘anti-anything’ festival. We are simply raising tolerance and awareness for the non-theist segment of the military community.

Many months go by, and nearly every necessary signature is on the RBB submission packet. Even the rigorous month-long legal review found that they were bound by regulations to give us the exact same treatment, and that they would support Rock Beyond Belief.

March 1st, 2011: The final signature we needed was the Garrison Commander. He placed last minute crippling restrictions on our event that forced us to cancel, against the legal recommendations from his own legal staff.

March 2nd, 2011: I am permitted to speak to the Garrison Commander and present him my rebuttal. I get 15 minutes, and nearly the whole time was spent arguing about how many people would show up to a Richard Dawkins speech. His staff contends that only a few hundred would possibly be interested (a claim they embarrassingly repeated to giggling reporters later), which makes the tiny venue that was forced on us justifiable. I didn’t even get a chance to talk about the many other grievances that I had with his decision letter.

March 4th, 2011: It is clear that our rebuttal fell on deaf ears. I delivered a response to his decision letter, and the story went out on the AP and the local papers here. Over the next few days we receive a massive amount of support from atheists, humanists, agnostics, even countless Christians reached across the aisle in sympathy.

March 8th, 2011: The public response has been overwhelmingly negative towards the Garrison Commander’s decision. He calls a press conference at 3PM with two reporters. I must admit a bit of jealousy because those journalists got 30-45 minutes of his time (I asked them about this when they contacted me for comment).

Which brings us up to date. Now the phone calls and emails continue to roll in from supporters, fellow service-members, and many journalists. I apologize for the tardiness that I might have in replying, but I’m sure you understand. (Please put ‘time sensitive’ or ‘journalist on a deadline’ etc in the subject line of your email if it can’t wait.)

So now I’m taking our case to the air waves (literally). The opportunity to interact with the ‘talk radio’ crowd was certainly unique, and I’d do it again for sure. I think I started out a little tense, but I think it quickly started going my way. What do you guys think? How did I do?

About Justin Griffith
  • Josh

    I’m one of 5 atheists in my unit, we only have about 4 there are only 35 of us, that’s a good chunk that’s unrepresented.

  • http://www.atheistnexus.org/group/wonderism/ Wonderist

    Excellent job on the interview, Justin. Your position on the issue of defending the constitution is unassailable. Stick with that and you’ll be able to handle any future interviews, no matter how hostile. Honestly, it wasn’t as hostile as I was expecting, and you’re right, I think the male host did see your point of view by the end.
    Thanks for sticking up for this. You’re awesome!

  • Sylvester Cotto, Jr

    I am absolutely impressed. You spoke with intelligence and respect, and I could sense your determination and commitment to this cause.
    I’m a 45 year old vet, and you are inspiring ME to be more outspoken with regard to defending, publicly, our 1st Amendment right to freedom of (from!) religion! You, and people like you, are giving me hope for the future, even as our rights are being attacked from the “Christian right” all over the country!
    Thanks! You ROCK!!!
    Sly

  • Dan Rawlings

    I could not have spoken so eloquently! You did a great job of showing people that we are not totally unreasonable, there is a legitimate problem, and we need to address it!

    Great Job!

  • rachel

    Justin-

    thankyou for making our voice known. As an non-believer in a overwhelmingly religious arena- we need to remind people that diversity is what makes this nation great.

  • http://www.examiner.com/atheism-in-los-angeles/hugh-kramer Hugh Kramer

    Great interview, Justin. Your points were well thought-out, clear and respectfully made. Should you ever decide to leave the Army, I think you could have a great career in anything that involves public speaking.

  • Stephen Sicinski

    Thank you for your feedback on the Rock Beyond Belief event at Fort Bragg. We value your feedback as we continue to strive to improve our relationships with all Americans whom we serve. I’d like to provide you some information to help clarify some of the inaccuracies reported about the Rock Beyond Belief event.

    I approved the Rock Beyond Belief event. However, the event organizer cancelled the event. There were some misunderstandings on the part of the organizer during the planning process which unfortunately continue to be propagated in the news media. Fort Bragg has stood by its promise to “provide similar support to comparable events sponsored by similar non-Federal entities that address the needs of the Soldiers on this Installation.” Fort Bragg supports diversity–racial, ethnic, gender, religious, ability–and has been forthright in providing information to the event organizer and the public.

    The event organizer requested the use of the Main Post Parade Field. Our analysis of the programmed speakers and bands indicated that the event did not meet our minimum threshold of 5,000 Soldiers and family members in order to host the event on the Main Post Parade Field. I approved the use of a theater on post which adequately supported the anticipated Soldier and family member attendance at the event. The event organizer chose to cancel, not Fort Bragg.

    Fort Bragg Morale Welfare and Recreation sponsors and funds only one to two events per year such as our Independence Day celebration which draws over 30,000 participants. Private organizations may request to conduct events that support Soldiers and family members on Fort Bragg at their own expense, with the installation providing only the location and required security, if approved. Funding to cover the production costs of private organization-sponsored events on Fort Bragg is provided by the event organizer.

    Fort Bragg will consider any private organization hosted event that benefits the military community at Fort Bragg. Venue decisions for proposed events will be based on an analysis of anticipated attendance and the type of entertainment. I approved the Rock Beyond Belief event for April 2nd at a post theater based on anticipated attendance and the type of event. However, the event organizer chose to cancel the event.

    I value your input and support of the Soldiers and Families assigned to Fort Bragg. Further input should be directed to the following e-mail address: braggpao@conus.army.mil. An excerpt from my letter to the Rock Beyond Belief event organizer is posted below.

    Thank you.

    COL Stephen Sicinski

    “I have reviewed your request for installation support of the April 2, 2011 “Rock Beyond Belief” event. I have approved the event being conducted as requested, with the exception of the venue. As your planned program consists primarily of speakers and musical performers (who are not chart-makers), the venue for the event will be the Main Post Theater or the York Theater. You should coordinate with the installation action officer listed below to schedule visits to the facilities to help you decide where you would like to hold your event.”

    • Justin Griffith

      Sir,
      I appreciate your comment and the fact that you are reaching out to interact with me and our audience. I have seen email traffic expressing your wish to have these comments posted prominently here and also on the SCA ‘action alert’.
      After communicating with Public Affairs, I now feel confident enough to not only post your comment, but to reply to it in full. I think this is an excellent opportunity to dispel the confusion in the media about the Rock Beyond Belief event.
      I felt that the occasion necessitated a post in its own right, and as such you can find my reply here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/2011/03/24/foxhole-atheist-justin-griffiths-reply-to-fort-bragg-commander/

      Very respectfully,
      Justin Griffith

  • rob

    You have done a good service for the country & the 1st admn. Great work!

  • Lynn Wilhelm

    Great job Justin. I’m sorry I missed it live, woulda called if I’d known.
    I only listen to that station when my mother thinks some topic will interest me. She must have missed this one too.

  • Sherry

    This is a priceless education for you! I couldn’t be more proud!


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X

%d bloggers like this: