Fort Bragg wont let us feed homeless vets at the atheist festival

I fought very hard for this to happen at the festival this weekend. We went back and forth for several months. The ‘pro-starvation’ camp has prevailed.

The idea was simple.

Our festival is already paid for, via a generous donation from the Stiefel Freethought Foundation (directly deposited into our accounts at American Atheists). So here we are with a free festival on our hands. We would have put the word out to bring canned food (and similar items). Next, we would drop off the food where it needs to go.

It’s a win-win. Obviously we get a measure of publicity that is undeniably ‘good’, seemingly attack/spin proof. But that’s obviously not the real motivation. We really care about the homeless population, especially the one around this military town.

  • Less than 1% of Americans are currently in the military (reserve and active).
  • 7% of Americans have served at some time in their life. (2010 Census data: 22.4 million)

23% of the homeless population are veterans

33% of the male homeless population are veterans

47% served Vietnam-era

17% served post-Vietnam

15% served pre-Vietnam

67% served three or more years

33% were stationed in war zone

25% have used VA homeless services

85% completed high school/GED, compared to 56% of non-veterans

89% received an honorable discharge

79% reside in central cities

16% reside in suburban areas

5% reside in rural areas

76% experience alcohol, drug or mental health problems

46% are white males, compared to 34% of non-veterans

46% are age 45 or older, compared to 20% non-veterans

[source]

America has left a population of heroes behind. It’s a goddamn shame. And we want to raise visibility and perhaps even make a noticeable dent in our area.

We are accepting donations at the after party!

The free party is at the Holiday Inn Bordeaux (call 910 323 0111 for room reservations) from 9PM – Midnight. It’s the official American Atheists after party, featuring music from Shelley Segal and appearances from the majority of our lineup. You can take pictures with them and give them hugs!

The donations are being handled by Military Atheists & Secular Humanists of Fort Bragg (MASH Fort Bragg). Bring some canned food, or other non-perishable items. Or simply drop some cash to the MASH Fort Bragg peeps at the hotel, and we’ll spend 100% of cash collected that night on bulk food purchases to supplement what you guys bring.

*UPDATE* MASH Fort Bragg is now able to handle online donations specifically marked for the food drive. 

[Update after the festival: online donations totaled $2246, and we raised another $1200 at the after party (off post). Read more here.]

[continue reading below the fold - *important*]

Fort Bragg’s lawyers say this is ‘fundraising’ and illegal

They are applying the ‘no fundraising’ concept quite liberally towards our festival. None of our vendors may accept donations (but they can sell stuff. That’s how you donate to them! Bring cash…)

Why is there a ban on ‘fundraising’ anyway? Joint Ethics regulation 3-211 is the culprit.

This image actually comes from the paperwork filed by the Christian event (emphasis mine). We obtained it in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. It was in a section marked ‘REGULATIONS THAT APPLY TO THIS EVENT’.

This means that the evangelicals surely had to follow this law too, right? Of course not.

They were permitted to raise funds (in the form of cash!) for months on post. They raised $54,000 in tithing at every chapel on post – there are several. That is a colossal fundraising effort, repeatedly violating the regulation – at multiple locations on post.

They spent the money on radio commercials (over $5K) and newspapers ($5K) and sandwiches, face paint, transportation and hotel rooms for their guests, etc. It represents institutionalized violations of the ethics code that they claim applies to their own event. The cleverest among you may notice that the entire point of their event was to convert as many people as possible to Christianity – a membership drive is an understatement. People should be in a massive amount of trouble for this!

This is what discrimination looks like

One other thing, we were (and still are) denied access to this structure of fundraising. We are banned from meeting on post – just like all atheist groups on every military base. Over a year ago, I filed to have our religious preference treated with equality within the military chaplaincy. Obviously nothing could ever make atheism a religion, but it’s certainly a ‘religious preference’ (a military term). We want to be able to meet on post, and have the same access and support that every other religious preference gets.

We are a community, and there is no other realistic support structure. I was the first to attempt to get the chaplaincy to work with us. I’ve previously indicated that I was shot down in a very depressing manner, but did not elaborate. I was holding out hope for others that I inspired to follow in my footsteps. Many other candidates came forth in my wake, with higher ranks. Not a single one has yet been cleared.

For various reasons I’m now extremely pessimistic for their attempts as well. I can no longer hold this back.

This is the reason why we are still banned from meeting on-post:

I-Nonconcur-with-SGT-Justin-Griffith-as-the-group-leader

This letter was attached to the massive packet that represented my application. There was a stack of at least a dozen ‘concur’ endorsements from my commanders, as well as chaplains from my unit, even the Garrison Chaplain (highest at Fort Bragg) recommended me. The rank attached to the letter above is higher than the authors of the ‘concur’ letters.

The date on this letter is April 21st, 2011. I was not told about my packet’s denial until November 2011. The Garrison Chaplain, Chaplain Hillis sat me down and pointed to that letter. He seemed surprised that I hadn’t seen it or been told that my efforts were squashed nearly 8 months earlier. He was magnanimous and polite, and possibly even a bit apologetic.

I have a massive amount of respect for the commanders at Fort Bragg, including the one named here. I respectfully disagree with his assessment of me. It’s with great heartache that I must leave it at that.

But it’s not over, I promise you. Rock Beyond Belief represents the first crack in the stain-glass ceiling. It’s time we break on through, brothers and sisters.

About Justin Griffith
  • tubi

    There are many of us (I assume) who would attend but can’t, for whatever reason, i.e. I live in Minnesota and have two kids under 8. Is there a way for us to donate to this food drive remotely?

    It is a goddamn shame the way vets are struggling like many are. I wish there were more ways to help. I wish this country as a whole would do more. But we chip away as best we can.

    And, what a kick in the nuts that letter was. Every time I come to this blog I’m amazed at the amount of effort you put into this cause, all while still carrying out your military duties. Keep on keeping on.

  • Sully

    Nothing but respect for the men and women serving in our military or have served in the past.

    The people running the military, on the other hand? Eh… not so much.

  • that_paul

    I mentioned earlier that there are roughly 25 empty houses for every 1 homeless person in the U.S. Seriously, what is wrong with us as a society that such a thing can happen? The capitalist game of pretend has been so thoroughly convincing that people have forgotten they’re just playing pretend and can at any moment stop playing and fix the problem.

    Every year, enough food is produced to ensure every man, woman, and child on the planet 1200 kilocalories of food. Why does anyone starve? Why does anyone go homeless?

  • Wayne Conerly

    Keep up the good fight Justin. I commend you on all the battles you have fought.

    Wayne -Dallas

  • James

    Damn, Justin. Good thing he’s not your rater, senior rater or reviewer; you might have gotten a “needs improvement” check block or a negative senior rater bullet from him. I got both of those once.

    And to ask the obvious question: why doesn’t someone else volunteer for the leadership position? It seems like an easy fix in order to gain DFG status.

  • Justin Griffith

    @#3 Right on Paul. I’ve been a squatter before, and while it’s not the most ideal situation (many gutter punks get scabies, etc.) it’s a fuck of a lot better than freezing to death.

    @#5 James, several people have. No dice, at any post. It’s a very coordinated effort to keep us down.

  • http://aratina.blogspot.com Aratina Cage

    the first crack in the stain-glass ceiling

    Good one! I hope that catches on.

    It’s so strange that they question your maturity but at the same time say nothing of the maturity of grown women and men who still hold beliefs in an imaginary friend…

  • http://www.facebook.com/megyaltero megyaltero

    So all potential chaplains are held to a defined “level of maturity and judgement”? I’d like to see where this is defined. Also, have other potential chaplains been held to this so called level? I’ll put my money on “not defined” and “no Christians ever evaluated this way”.

  • James

    AR 165-1, 5-5 c. “The DFGLs seeking to provide religious services in U.S. Government controlled facilities must submit an

    application with the approval and sponsorship of a local Chaplain to either the SrCH or the senior command Chaplain

    at the division or higher level in deployed situations. The SrCH or appropriate command Chaplain endorses the request

    and forwards to the appropriate IMCOM or MEDCOM Chaplain for approval…”

    Seems to me, Justin, that BG Anderson didn’t have the authority to make that decision. Far as I know, he’s not IMCOM or MEDCOM and he’s not a (Army) chaplain. (Who knows what his civilian church leadership role or roles might be?) You didn’t even need his concurrence. Looks like your bill died before it even got to committee. One question to ask your chaplain sponsor is whether or not the “appropriate IMCOM or MEDCOM chaplain” (who might that be?) has made a decision yet. I don’t know the Chief of Chaplains’ food chain, but I’ll bet it’s neither IMCOM or MEDCOM. He’s probably stovepiped to some Deputy Chief of Staff somewhere. So, unless there are others (such as DCG, XVIII Airborne Corps?) with approval authority not indicated in AR 165-1, I’d say this ain’t over ’til it’s over.

    That’s what I love about my Army: everything’s written down very plainly. That doesn’t stop people from interpreting it, though.

  • Justin Griffith

    IMCOM is the correct food chain, before it gets to Chief of Chaplains, FYI.

    My packet was submitted with this letter attached, specifically at MG Anderson’s request (he was indeed not necessary for this packet)…




    FYI All ‘mature’ candidates are STUCK there. It’s inexcusable, and we are under attack by members of the ecclesiastical endorsing group of ‘chaplain-approvers’. They are doing everything they can to block just this one single event. A retired 0-6 representing 150 chaplains just demanded that the SECDEF cancel our event.

    Seriously. This is the front line of a very scary kind of subterranean culture war. HELP!

  • that_paul

    @Justin

    I think their response is telling. It’s unreasonable and not very calm. To me it says they’re afraid and angry. Which tells me they know things are changing. They’re trying to hold back an oncoming tide with spoons. Keep coming in and they are quickly overwhelmed.

    No more fortune cookies for lunch.

  • FormerlyNavy

    Oooh, so *you’re* the immature one? What about that chaplain(?) or whatever rank he is that openly disses you and your efforts on *his* blog? How is that in any way mature? But, since we, the people, are not the ones deciding maturity, I suppose our opinions don;t particularly matter.

  • Christi

    You can sell stuff, but not accept donations…ok. Although it is probably a little late now to get anything going, you could sell something terribly cheap (like a little round sticker with an A on it) for the cost of a can of food.

    BTW–you’ve demonstrated more tact, professionalism, maturity and judgement than a lot of O-6s I’ve met.

  • ‘Tis Himself, OM

    Unless MG Andersen is in your direct chain of command and within a few steps of you, how can he determine what your maturity and judgement are?

  • fester60613

    I’m deeply disappointed that the Army would take this stance. The way our Vets are treated by the government is inadequate, insulting and disgraceful.

    Veterans should have free and completely unfettered access to education and health care for life.

  • http://sciencenotes.wordpress.com/ Markita Lynda—it’s Spring after the Winter that wasn’t

    “If this man should become one of us…”

    Smells like running scared.

    I am continually impressed by your calm responses to unreasonable attacks. Don’t let anyone say you’re not mature enough to be a chaplain. If you can get this on track with the right responders, more power to you!

  • Coyote

    Out of curiousity, Justin, what is your source for those figures on America’s homeless population? I really want to use those numbers in a discussion I’m currently having with a friend and ‘I read them on this cool blog I frequent’ doesn’t really carry the weight I’m hoping for.

  • Justin Griffith

    For the ‘less than 1%” wikipedia article on United States:

    In 2008, the armed forces had 1.4 million personnel on active duty. The Reserves and National Guard brought the total number of troops to 2.3 million. The Department of Defense also employed about 700,000 civilians, not including contractors.

    2.4 million out of 313 million (USA Population) is less than one percent.

    For the other figure, I used this data http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0521.pdf

    22.4 mil / 313 mil = 7%

    I typed it wrong (saying 24 mil instead of 22.4… but I’m fixing now.)

  • Coyote

    Thanks.

  • Mattir

    I will make a donation to National Coalition for Homeless Veterans in honor of foxhole atheists.

    I’m not military (or a vet), and no one in the military suggested that I donate, to NCHV or any other group. But the military leadership’s treatment of non-believers has been appalling – from the original Rock the Fort events, to the cancellation last year of Rock Beyond Belief to this no-donations-for-homeless-vets nonsense to the refusal to allow atheist groups to meet on bases. So I’ll donate, and do so as an atheist.

  • kosk11348

    Having to eat this kind of shit with a smile is one reason I could never join the military. That and fear of dying.

  • Justin Griffith

    If you’re scared of dying, you better not be scared to live.

  • that_paul

    Dying doesn’t bother me so much. I’m surprised to still be alive, honestly. I just could not, in good conscience, take part in an organization that I feel is a part of the problem. Being an anarchist is fun that way. In fact, I was torn on whether to even support RBB. But I weighed the pros and cons and decided that helping atheists be less repressed is good whatever the venue.

    I could handle being in a milita, though.

    An anarchist militia.

    With very fine hats.

    Shiny.

  • http://wikileaks.org bonghitter

    ahahah, and y’all are the ones saying: “wow christians need to stfu they always say they are persecuted or there’s a war on religion blah blah blah” and here you are crying that you’re being persecuted. so fucking funny. atheists claim to be smart yet they wouldn’t make it on the street for a fortnight

  • Ateam

    I would personally Copy every document you have that related and send it up to your Gov and senator. Doesn’t sound like it will help much but you may be surprised. Also I would get a SIGNED petition going as well and forward those numbers up the chain of immaturity.

  • Mandamus

    Don’t be a pussy. Be pissed. Those in charge are the ones being immature. Discrimination on religious grounds is wrong. For or against. This is a perfect example of what the religious people accuse us atheists of being. Only it’s them doing it. Raise a stink. Those in charge don’t demand respect simply for existing. They must earn it. And those people holding this position do not deserve respect. They are stopping you from doing good simply because they disagree with your philosophy. That’s evil.

  • Courtney

    @bonghitter (I mean really? Bong hitter????) You sir, sound like a truer than true Christian. Well done!

    On a serious note. Justin, you’re amazing! And you’re doing such a great thing. Keep up the good work and continue to crack their stained glass ceilings and stone hearts!

  • ??? bongchieferdexluxe

    Bonghitter stfu, atheists are being marginialized just watch fox news, they act like everything is an attack on christianity even abortion because of rape… Atheists are the ppl who are really doing the right thing because it makes sense to us. I’m so sick and tired of these ppl who do what an imaginary man tells them (every religion). Religion makes me sick but you know what? I was one of the sheep once so I wouldn’t ever hold them down. Its like ocean crabs in a bucket, once one almost escapse the confining enviroment the others seek to pull him down. That’s how best I can describe religious ppls treatment of atheihsts. Its called science mother f#@$ learn it, and its called doing things for yourself because if you haven’t noticed god hasn’t done s@%# for homeless ppl.

    Ppl like these athiests in this story have a valid arguement, religious folks need to find out how to work with these ppl because they’ve got the right ideas. They just need to do it without shoving every aspect of their belief down ppls throats.

  • James

    “Fortnight”? Who the hell says “fortnight”?

    Maybe he’s rastafarian, Courtney.

  • ??? bongchieferdexluxe

    Btw sorry about typos I’m doing this while taking a shit on the bathroom. Go everyone in our military who believes in comin together to fix real problems without involving beliefs! There are some good religious ppl out there too, those are the ppl that make me think maybe religions do have value.

    Science mother fuckers science.

  • ??? bongchieferdexluxe

    *in the bathroom on a phone

    Fuck this phone sucks!

    Ps I’m not shitting on my bathroom.

  • SomeGuy

    I just wanted to drop a line of support for you. You are trying to do the right thing out of goodness of heart and mercy which is something your senior leadership at Bragg doesn’t seem to recognize. If you are only allowed to do good things under the banner of some religious cause it shows a very superficial level of sincerity on their part.

    Good luck to you, Sir!

  • James

    T. M. I. C’mon, man …

  • FedoraBob

    CTR2 here, it’s a shame I can’t make it for the concert. I hope everyone has a blast and you make some major headway in getting the point across!

  • Larry B

    I served Navy, from 73 – 79 so not so much experience with Army regs of today. However, I do know what your up against here. If allowed to go through with your plans, your event shows up to the public and the world the terrible situations and conditions of our Veterans in this country today. The military establishment does not want that situation spotlighted as it shows the military and our government in a bad light. In addition it competes directly with the military Christian establishment also making them look less.

    If I may, I would make a suggestion, go to change.org and post this for all the world to see. Change.org has put huge pressure on many government agencies to change what they do or say. A petition drive from there might just cause them to allow your group to function. I also would suggest that you find a civilian to post the cause there to avoid retaliation from the Fort Bragg food chain.

  • StarStuff

    Bonghitter – REALLY? Christians being persecuted? You’re the majority – who’s persecuting you? waaaaaa. It’s not happening. Just because people aren’t bending over for you or not agreeing with your idiocies doesn’t make mean you’re being oppressed.

  • Lt. Dan

    There’s that unfortunate key phrase in the clause “able and willing” of which they appear to be neither – sad state of affairs.

  • George

    I dont get why some gays want the catholic church to accept them. That’s the way the christian religion is.

    Atheist, why would you want to be in the US military? Like it or not, the military is involved in a holy war that is not ending anytime soon.

  • F
  • beamish13

    I’m so embarrassed to have been born in the U.S.

  • http://www.MichaelZWilliamson.com Michael Z. Williamson

    George: A holy war? Really?

    I guess I missed that part of my indoctrination. I had many fine arguments with Christians, and yes, a few of them in high places are dickbags. The world is changing and they’re afraid of the future.

    I guess it’s easy to be an expert on something you’ve never done, though. Carry on.

  • ScottS

    Stick with it Justin! These are the hurdles we must face (and clear) simply because we are the most hated demographic in the country.

    Eventually, I have no doubt that we will move beyond this bullshit. And one day, when we’re all long dead and gone, maybe our grandsons and granddaughters, our grand-nieces and nephews will be able to live in an America that is truly free for all people, regardless of what they believe. Just like the Founding Fathers intended.

    You consistently do yourself, your shared demographic and your uniform proud.

  • Antares

    Best wishes from the Old World, Justin, to you and yours. Keep up the good work!

  • Clay

    Hey man, I spen ten years as a grunt and am an atheist so I know what you’re going through. Hooah! I have to ask, what public activities have you done that MG Anderson sees fit to question your maturity and judgement? You should get the ACLU involved in this one.

  • dukeofomnium

    I’m just disgusted at the neologism “nonconcur”. What an affront to the English language! Not to mention that it sounds like something out of the Newspeak Dictionary …

  • Justin

    It’s a pity he doesn’t respect the philosophy of his Alma Mater:

    “Wofford is one of 122 colleges and universities related to the United Methodist Church. Consistent with that tradition, the college welcomes faculty and students of all faiths, as well as those of no faith.”

  • Nick Young

    Justin have you considered resubmitting after MG Anderson retires in May?

  • Navigator

    This is just so wrong…I’ve been working in the VA for almost 25 years and I know how many vets are homeless, and hungry, and need this support! We help as many as we can, but Justin..

    You go man!

  • ChemIisan

    What can I do to get this repealed? May I recommend Change.Org?

  • Rod Chlebek

    Does the pastor’s “level of maturity and judgement” mean “sheep”?

  • Justin Griffith

    I’m handling this, trust me. I was just hoping to let my imitators have a chance. There are a few who avoided this particular full stop.

    I’m now extremely pessimistic about their success for other reasons that I’ll keep to myself for now.

    Trust me. I’m not the type to take no for an answer when it comes to my rights. We can do this the easy way or the hard way. But we’re doing this.

  • http://aratina.blogspot.com Aratina Cage

    ahahah, and y’all are the ones saying: “wow christians need to stfu they always say they are persecuted or there’s a war on religion blah blah blah” and here you are crying that you’re being persecuted. so fucking funny.

    Keep hitting that bong, dude. You are going to be so ashamed of yourself when you finally come down and reread what you wrote.

  • HighDudgeonAZ

    I don’t know what else to say except, “Thank you.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/thetimchannel timfuller

    Good luck. The forces of evil are aligned against you. Might be better to let the vets gets hungry. They know which direction to point their guns if they get hungry enough.

    Enjoy.


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