Have a Delicious Limited Public Forum and Eat it Too

Have a Delicious Limited Public Forum and Eat it Too June 19, 2011

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has recently released the following.

I took these from my iPhone back in Easter while deployed in Afghanistan. I couldn’t send them to my email until I got back from the deployment. These cakes were laid out in our combat Forward Operating Base dining facility during Easter, 2011.

(name, rank, combat unit, military installation and MOS withheld)

This is getting ridiculous. I’ve never seen John 3:16 proselytism via cake before. I’m pretty sure that most people will agree that this is inappropriate.

But is it legal?

I don’t know.

The Rock the Fort evangelical concert from 2010 (inspiring our own festival), taught us the lesson that the typical DoD response to controversial proselytism is to claim that “equal opportunities would be given to all groups.” This same line is brought out again and again, such as recently with the Fort Bragg Vacation Bible School situation. Just why are they trotting out this line?

I believe that they think it establishes a legal loophole for mixing religion and government known as a limited public forum. Via Wikipedia:

public forum, also called an open forum, is open to all expression that is protected under the First Amendment. Streets, parks, and sidewalks are considered open to public discourse by tradition and are designated as traditional public forums. The government creates a designated public forum when it intentionally opens a nontraditional forum for public discourse. Limited public forums, such as municipal meeting rooms, are nonpublic forums that have been specifically designated by the government as open to certain groups or topics.

nonpublic forum is not specially designated as open to public expression. For example, jails, public schools, and military bases are nonpublic forums (unless declared otherwise by the government). Such forums can be restricted based on the content of the speech, but not based on viewpoint. Thus, while the government could prohibit speeches related to abortion on a military base, it could not permit a pro-life speaker while denying a pro-choice speaker (or vice versa).

So every time the line is potentially crossed, there seems to be a defensive statement released along these lines. It seems that this cake is a claiming to a limited public forum…

The cake is a lie

General Order 1B is a long list of actions (including gambling, drugs, alcohol) that are prohibited in the CENTCOM Area of Responsibility (read: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the rest of the Middle East).

k. Proselytizing of any religion, faith or practice.

It applies to all military members, and even civilians employed by the DoD. It is also punitive, meaning that violations should result in pretty severe punishment. Punishment for proselytism is perceived as extremely rare, and MRFF is one of the few organizations that consistently take this issue on. One of the reasons it is so rarely punished is that many existing military regulations are not punitive, rendering enforcement difficult. This situation often forces issues into an escalated state, like a legal battle. If this instance were found to be proselytism, it seems to be an exception to these enforcement difficulties – being in violation of a direct order (G0-1B).

However, until further details emerge, it is hardly likely that this instance is going anywhere at all. For now, all that’s left to go on is the legacy of promises to offer the exact same opportunities to any other groups. So even when a situation became somewhat controversial, not much was done about it. Until we started taking them up on these ‘offers’, they extended such promises with confidence that a counter-activity was not likely to be mounted.

Who Will Help Me Bake This Cake?

The Pandora’s Box of allowing every religious preference an equal opportunity is absurd in most of these cases, but usually goes untested. This is due to many reasons, obviously including the fact that many Soldiers do not speak out for fear of jeopardizing their careers.

Another important reason – money. Our festival is going to cost every penny of the $50,000 pledge from the Stiefel Freethought Foundation. But cakes are cheap! Something tells me that if I opened up a ChipIn account it would hit the $50 mark quite quickly (as RBB speaker Hemant Mehta seems to do so masterfully and so often.)

So give me money for cake! Nah, just kidding – I’ve got this one. 🙂 But – if for some reason this strange form of evangelism is epidemic and many more examples emerge, I may revisit this.

Aren’t most cakes already Atheist cakes?

Yes I know that a ‘blank’ cake could be an ‘atheist cake’, but that misses the point.
HAO Atheist Bus Cake

Establishing a Public Forum entitles us to display our messages too. The billboard campaign cake pictured above is quite appropriate (thanks for the image, Humanist Association of Ottawa!). But I think maybe the first interfaith cake attempt might need something even softer in tone than this (though obviously quite soft already.)

Got an idea for the cake? Please, let us know on our Facebook page’s discussion of this article.

I’m not in Afghanistan, but I’m going to try to get some sort of cake shipped out here (I’m not at Fort Bragg right now either – cryptic, huh?). I’m going to approach the people in charge about this, and I’ll let you guys know how it goes.

Why am I doing this? Because I want to use every opportunity possible to raise awareness, tolerance, and respect for the non-theist military community. It’s about breaking down barriers, and this could be a cute way to do it. As RBB speaker, Jen McCreight once put it “Edgy, but friendly.”

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Pam

    I sent a load of home-made cookies to a friend over there and they survived after being carefully packaged- wonder how cupcakes would do?

    • Justin Griffith

      Pam, if you could – please fill out the contact form. I’ve got a few suggestions. Just put ‘cupcakes’ in the subject line. Thanks!

  • Rob

    Set out an atheist cake and some Christian is going to throw it in the trash because it “offends” them.

    • Justin Griffith

      It’s unfortunate but you’re right. Though, I’d be willing to mitigate and cake-sit. They wouldn’t do such a thing with a smiling, well-adjusted, happy atheist sitting there offering dessert. I get along with everyone – bring it. (:

  • Karl

    Do you think those cakes were actually shipped into Afghanistan? It seems to me that they’d be unlikely to survive the trip (I am admittedly unfamiliar with military transport however). I wouldn’t be surprised if they were made on base, by order of an overzealous officer ( or head cook). (I suppose I am also assuming one couldn’t find a bakery in country that would make a “Christian” cake.)

    • Justin Griffith

      Well, there are companies that will ship cakes to APO addresses (military). Most seem to be lacking frosting, and geared towards shelf-life. But when all the parts are moving effectively, shipping takes about 10 days. Now, we probably are going to have a road block with food inspectors etc.

      It’s complicated but not impossible really. If worse comes to worse, I’ll just ask the Chaplains here for the opportunity to hand out some cupcakes (Pam’s?) at some sort of ‘ask an atheist’ type of engagement.

  • beerslayer

    One of my favorite quotes of all time might look nice on a cake:

    “Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.” – Thomas Jefferson

  • beerslayer

    Or, if that’s too long, a couple of shorter options:

    “I don’t believe that faith can move mountains, but I have seen what it can do to skyscrapers.” (paraphrased, originally by William H. Gascoyne)

    “Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.” – Isaac Asimov

  • Cat Faber

    No a blank cake is not an atheist cake! A blank cake is a *neutral* cake; it takes no position on whether there is a god.

    Watch out for people trying to claim a neutral position is an atheist one; that is precisely the argument fundies use to demand (their) religion be taught in schools.

    Now an Atheist cake? But a really, really *gentle* one? Hmm. How about:

    “You don’t have to believe in God to be good. Like this cake.”

  • what

    Who paid for the religious cakes? Taxpayers? I hope not.

  • beerslayer

    Maybe “You don’t have to believe in God to give your life for your country.”

  • Don
  • I like the Probably No God cake. For a second cake maybe the Pledge of Alligence without the Under God part?