Group Demands Army Cancel “Evangelistic Event”

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State has called for the US Army to cancel a Chaplaincy event at Fort Bragg, NC.  The event is Rock the Fort, which is associated with Billy Graham’s Evangelistic Association.  According to the BGEA website:

When evangelist Josh Holland gets up to speak at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, N.C., this Saturday, he plans to honor the soldiers who are present, thanking them for their sacrifice and what they do to ensure our nation’s freedom.

“I also want to talk about the truest kind of freedom, which is found in a relationship with Christ and in freedom from sin,” Holland said during a phone interview this week.

The AU takes issue: 

An evangelistic rally jointly sponsored by U.S. military personnel and evangelical Christian churches and ministries violates the U.S. Constitution and must be cancelled, says Americans United…

Notice they said an event sponsored by US military personnel.  They continued:

“It’s not the Army’s job to convert Americans to Christianity,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United.

Lynn is correct, of course.  It isn’t the Army’s job to convert anyone to anything (save conversion of a civilian to a Soldier in basic training).

But then, the Army isn’t trying to convert anyone.  On the other hand, members of the military, Chaplaincy and not, are expressly permitted to participate with organizations representing their faiths.  (After all, military members participate in similar religiously affiliated services, of many stripes, every week.)  The fact that Lynn doesn’t like what Christian “US military personnel” are doing while they exercise their faith does not grant him a heckler’s veto over their Constitutionally-protected right to free exercise. 

There is nothing wrong with members of the military participating in voluntary events consistent with their faiths, even if those events are supported by the military.  The Rock the Fort event, and Fort Bragg’s Chaplaincy involvement with it, seems to be a sincere and worthy effort to support the spiritual needs of the Army’s servicemembers and connect with the local community.  Whether it’s a block party, an Easter service, a Ramadan Iftar, or a rock concert, a community event associated with religion and the military does not “violate the U.S. Constitution.”

In addition, there is no justification for demands, like the AU’s, that would sanitize any appearance of faith from the military.  While their letter referenced only this event, it would actually have the effect of ending public Easter services and Iftars as well.  Given political sensitivities, it is unlikely they would highlight that result.

Interestingly, at least one religious freedom group should be coming to the defense of Fort Bragg’s Chaplains.  They recently said:

It is absolutely permissible for a chaplain’s office to put on a Christian concert.

Who was it?  Michael Weinstein’s MRFF.  Weinstein’s research assistant Chris Rodda was apparently trying to moderate their seemingly extreme attack on a concert series at a military base by saying it was “absolutely permissible” under certain circumstances.  Now that the “absolutely permissible” event is being condemned, think Weinstein will come to the defense of “religious freedom?”

Not likely.  Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time Weinstein’s organization claimed to defend a specific religious free exercise, but demonstrated the opposite when that freedom was attacked…for Christians.

Also noted at USA Today, CNN, the Army Times and the ADF.