Rock Beyond Belief: Funded by the Christian Collection Plate?

The question of equitable treatment of “Rock Beyond Belief” has already been addressed in general terms.  What follows below is a more in-depth discussion on some of the specifics of the “Rock Beyond Belief” controversy, including Affiliation, Attendance, Funding, and Content.  It will certainly be referenced for the MRFF case file (Chris Rodda has undoubtedly been waiting for this), and Fort Bragg may even take a peek at it; it’s here for all to see.

If you only have a few minutes, recommended reading is the section on Funding, though Content is also enlightening.

There’s one interesting qualifier:  At least two of the issues below, about which supporters of RBB are only now complaining, were known last year.  Guess who brought them up?  “Rock Beyond Belief”…

Affiliation: “Rock Beyond Belief” organizers announced last year that the Christian “Rock the Fort” was not an MWR-affiliated event.  Instead, it was affiliated with the Chaplaincy.  By contrast, “Rock Beyond Belief” appears to be affiliated with…no one.  It seems to be trying to affiliate with MWR, but it does not appear to have met the necessary thresholds.  Thus, since one is a Chaplain’s event and the other an attempted MWR event, the whole basis of comparison (whether or not RBB is a “comparable” event to RtF) may be skewed.

Attendance:  In order to obtain access to the parade grounds, “Rock Beyond Belief” organizers said last year they needed to project — and prove — attendance of greater than 2,500.  Based on the wording of the Fort Bragg letter approving the event, it does not appear Fort Bragg was convinced they would draw a crowd of that size.  Thus, while the event is authorized, it may not receive the level of support that a larger event would.  (The MRFF has repeatedly claimed they will draw a large crowd, but researcher Chris Rodda has provided no support for her assertion, nor any evidence Fort Bragg received convincing support of that assertion.) 

It appears Fort Bragg was placed between a rock and a hard place.  They could approve MWR support for RBB, but in so doing they would have to treat RBB differently than RtF: they would have to give RBB support where it would have been denied to other organizations (and reportedly was denied to RtF).  Or, they could follow the standard guidance — knowing no matter what they did, Weinstein would complain.

Funding:   The MRFF’s Chris Rodda continues to cite the canard that “Rock Beyond Belief” has been “denied” funding that “Rock the Fort” received.  She has yet to produce a single document denying similar funding requests, and she misses an important distinction.

“Rock the Fort” was an event.  It was held by two organizations: the external, non-Federal Billy Graham Evangelical Association (BGEA) and the Fort Bragg Garrison Religious Support Office (RSO).  There is no public evidence BGEA (the non-Federal entity) received a single dollar for their event.

“Rock Beyond Belief” is both an event and an organization — an external, non-Federal organization, just like BGEA.  It has not publicly identified any other groups by which it (the event) is being held.  Just like RtF, there is no evidence RBB (the non-Federal entity) has received any funds.

All Fort Bragg funds associated with “Rock the Fort” were handled through the Chaplain’s Religious Support Office.  In fact, the FOIA-released documents contain an interesting piece of information most people haven’t noticed:  the “fund manager” listed on the budget isn’t employed by MWR.  He’s a Chaplain’s assistant.  Now, if the funds RtF used were the same MWR funds RBB is reportedly requesting, why did a Chaplain’s assistant produce the budget document?

It seems the funds used for “Rock the Fort” were part of the chapel funds.  Again, “Rock Beyond Belief” knew this last year, and even indicated it was going to coordinate with the Chaplain’s office months ago.  Apparently, nothing came of this.**  Had RBB also associated with the RSO, the RSO — still, not RBB — may have had access to some funding.  Even that, however, is not a certainty.  If, as some have speculated, the RtF funds came from the “Chapel Tithes and Offerings Funds,” then RBB was not guaranteed access to them.  CTOF resources are collected from the donations of military chapel congregants, which the US Army recognizes as an inherently religious act.  The CTOF accounts are considered government funds, but they don’t come from the government: they come from individual congregants in distinct religious services.

Thus, when Chris Rodda claims “Fort Bragg” paid “$50,000” for “Rock the Fort,” she’s being disingenuous.  In truth, the chapel congregations at Fort Bragg donated that money; it was not taxpayer money.

In fact, if RtF did use CTOF funds, and RBB truly wanted access to the same funds, the atheists of “Rock Beyond Belief” would have to take money from the church collection plate to support their “secularist” event.

It appears they didn’t actually make that request (a wise public relations move).  Instead, they went to MWR for funds.  Once they did that, however, they were no longer similarly situated to “Rock the Fort.”  For RBB to ask for MWR funds and then have Michael Weinstein claim RtF got “preferential treatment” is grossly misleading — since RtF received no MWR funds.

Despite the MRFF’s complaints, “Rock Beyond Belief” had equal access to the same source of funds as “Rock the Fort:”  It could (and reportedly did) “pass the plate” among like-minded atheists and supporters.

If this funding situation is true, despite Michael Weinstein’s grandstanding, the as-yet-unfiled lawsuit is dead in the water.

Content: Finally, there is one more little-known “requirement” of the military hosting a “similar” event:  Missed by many has been the fact Fort Bragg restricted the content of what was said at “Rock the Fort.”  As noted in the After Action Report:

The bands and speakers stayed within the parameters that we gave them as directed by LTG Helmick, “in other words keep it low key…share encouraging music and a gospel message with no statements that are critical of other religions.” (emphasis added)

(Interestingly, no one has complained that the US military restricted the religious speech at what Michael Weinstein has described as a “Christian orgy.”)

As previously noted, “Rock Beyond Belief” has invited Michael Weinstein and Richard Dawkins, two men who make their livings being “critical of other religions.”  Invited musical guests also have a history of similar criticism.  Does anyone really expect they could fill a stage for 8 hours with people whose lives revolve around attacking religion and meet such a stringent requirement?

**This is potentially “Rock Beyond Belief’s” strongest argument.  If RBB can prove they were denied support by the RSO because of their ideology (and, as a result, they lost access to funding), they may have a case.

However, that is an argument that should have been made last year, when that conversation took place.  It is completely unrelated to these recent developments.  Importantly, the RSO is not obligated to support every event at every request, so there may be legitimate reasons such a request would be denied — but ideology/theology is not one of them.