Rocking the First Amendment?

First there was the Christian “Rock the Fort” concert on September 25, 2010 at Fort Bragg.  It was put on by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Fort Bragg chaplains were the contact point.  Which, of course, makes sense.  This was both a religious event and a morale booster.  According to news reports, the head chaplain, Chaplain (Col) David Hills, said he would give equal support to events organized and sponsored by people of other faiths.  Which also makes sense: to give preference to one brand of religion over another would be a violation of the establishment clause.

Some, including the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, charged that the Army had no business hosting, promoting and financially supporting an event whose intent was to make converts.

Now there is the “Rock Beyond Belief” concert, also at Fort Bragg, this time organized by non-religious servicemembers with the support of secularist and atheist organizations.    It was scheduled to take place on April 2nd.  According to documents the Freedom From Religion Foundation received under the Freedom of Information Act, Fort Bragg supported the Christian “Rock the Fort” concert to the tune of $52,475.80.  These are, of course, tax dollars.

Judging from the Rock Beyond Belief log and Facebook page, the organizers have been planning and raising funds since last October, assuming they would be granted the same support that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association received.  But on March 1st, they received word that For Bragg had rejected their request for $41,670.  It is hard to tell whether the organizers had also been led to believe they could stage their concert on the Fort Bragg Main Parade Field, which can accommodate thousands and where Rock the Fort concert took place last fall.  They refer to a “change of venue” and say that the Garrison Commander is offering a theater for the concert.  The post theater seats 700.

The restrictions set for the Rock Beyond Belief were “crippling,” said the organizers.  And they are suing.

None of the press coverage we have seen mentions what position the chaplains are taking on this.  Are they advising the command?  Do they feel that, being a non-religious event, they have no say in the matter?  Do they think Rock Beyond Belief deserves the same support as Rock the Fort?

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Filed under atheism, chaplains, military, religion

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