Fort Bragg Issues Statement on Atheist Rock Beyond Belief

After Col Stephen Sicinski’s letter approving the atheist “Rock Beyond Belief” event was publicized, the Fort Bragg Garrison Commander reportedly responded directly to both RBB and the Secular Coalition for America, which has been publicly critical of his decision.  His message has not been made public by those organizations, despite the fact multiple groups continue to inaccurately portray Fort Bragg’s decision.  (Col Sicinski previously lamented the fact Fort Bragg was being “misrepresented.”)

Col Sicinski’s message, which reaffirms some points and contains some interesting details not previously made public, is below in its entirety (unedited):

Message from Col. Stephen Sicinski, Fort Bragg Garrison Commander:

Thank you for your feedback on the Rock Beyond Belief event at Fort Bragg.  We value your feedback as we continue to strive to improve our relationships with all Americans whom we serve.  I’d like to provide you some information to help clarify some of the inaccuracies reported about the Rock Beyond Belief event.

I approved the Rock Beyond Belief event.  However, the event organizer cancelled the event.  There were some misunderstandings on the part of the organizer during the planning process which unfortunately continue to be propagated in the news media.  Fort Bragg has stood by its promise to “provide similar support to comparable events sponsored by similar non-Federal entities that address the needs of the Soldiers on this Installation.”  Fort Bragg supports diversity–racial, ethnic, gender, religious, ability–and has been forthright in providing information to the event organizer and the public.

The event organizer requested the use of the Main Post Parade Field.
Our analysis of the programmed speakers and bands indicated that the event did not meet our minimum threshold of 5,000 Soldiers and family members in order to host the event on the Main Post Parade Field.  I approved the use of a theater on post which adequately supported the anticipated Soldier and Family member attendance at the event.  The event organizer chose to cancel, not Fort Bragg.

Fort Bragg’s Morale Welfare and Recreation sponsors and funds only one to two events per year such as our Independence Day celebration which draws over 30,000 participants.  Private organizations may request to conduct events that support Soldiers and family members on Fort Bragg at their own expense, with the installation providing only the location and required security, if approved.  Funding to cover the production costs of private organization-sponsored events on Fort Bragg is provided by the event organizer.

Fort Bragg will consider any private organization hosted event that benefits the military community at Fort Bragg.  Venue decisions for proposed events will be based on an analysis of anticipated attendance and the type of entertainment.  I approved the Rock Beyond Belief event for April 2nd at a post theater based on anticipated attendance and the type of event.  However, the event organizer chose to cancel the event.

I value your input and support of the Soldiers and Families assigned to Fort Bragg.  Further input should be directed to the following e-mail
address:  An excerpt from my letter to the Rock Beyond Belief event organizer is posted below. 

Thank you.

Col. Stephen Sicinski

“I have reviewed your request for installation support of the April 2, 2011 “Rock Beyond Belief” event.  I have approved the event being conducted as requested, with the exception of the venue.  As your planned program consists primarily of speakers and musical performers (who are not chart-makers), the venue for the event will be the Main Post Theater or the York Theater.  You should coordinate with the installation action officer listed below to schedule visits to the facilities to help you decide where you would like to hold your event.”

Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Caveats: FOUO

The message seems to communicate a reasonable and equitable position and policy; again, a magnanimous statement from someone who has recently been equated with a racist and a rapist over his decision.

Some important points highlighted in the message:

  • Fort Bragg approved “Rock Beyond Belief.”  RBB canceled itself. [Implications Fort Bragg was responsible for the cancellation are incorrect.]
  • Fort Bragg “stood by” its promise of “similar support for comparable events…that address the needs of the Soldiers on this Installation.” [The support offered to RBB was the same offered to “Rock the Fort.”]
  • Use of the parade field required a “minimum threshold of 5,000 Soldiers and family members.” [Notably, not merely 5,000 people.  Fort Bragg is military installation, after all, not a community convention center.]
  • MWR supports only one or two events a year.  [If RBB were to get MWR support, it would be getting special treatment, not equal treatment.]

On a related topic, while multiple internet stories are circulating saying the Army is being sued, no lawsuit has actually been filed.  Given the information to date, it seems even barracks lawyers are reasonably convinced such a suit wouldn’t survive to see the inside of a courtroom.


  • JD wrote: “Use of the parade field required a ‘minimum threshold of 5,000 Soldiers and family members.’ [Notably, not merely 5,000 people. Fort Bragg is military installation, after all, not a community convention center.]”

    Apparently, JD doesn’t realize that this actually makes an even stronger argument for RBB, since RTF’s attendance was only between 2,000 and 3,000 (far short of the required 5,000). Add to RTF’s already insufficient audience size that RTF was, in fact, specifically marketed as a community event, and its audience was even more insufficient for the parade field. RTF was a collaboration between Fort Bragg and the churches in the community, so there were plenty of people there who weren’t soldiers and their families (a stipulation that was never brought up before Fort Bragg had to defend its decision on RBB). If we deduct all the civilians and non-military families from RTF’s total audience of 2,000 to 3,000, RTF’s audience fell even further short of the required 5,000 minimum.

  • Chris,

    What were the 2009 numbers? You can use 2010 numbers to prove they shouldn’t get assistance for 2011, but they haven’t yet been approved for 2011, have they?

  • @Chris Rodda

    According to official public planning documents regarding “Rock the Fort:”

    “Expected concert attendance is 10,000.”

    There are no official public documents regarding projected attendance at “Rock Beyond Belief,” and there is no indication RBB provided Fort Bragg with any supportable attendance projections. However, Fort Bragg has said:

    Sicinski said Fort Bragg’s market analysis determined [Rock Beyond Belief] would draw, at best, hundreds of people.

    For those who haven’t done grade school math in awhile:

    10,000 > 5,000

    “hundreds” < 5,000

  • 10,000 (or even 5,000) is way > the 2,000 to 3,000 that RTF actually produced
    “hundreds” is way < the size of the audience typically drawn by Richard Dawkins

  • bs beyond belief

    Seems like the perfect opportunity to prove the military wrong (for their calculations). Dawkins was “booked”, the York Theater was approved… why not have people fighting over reservations to see him and prove your statement? I can’t see how canceling an entire event served anybody’s interest, unless the only interest was to find fault with the military and threaten to sue.

  • @bs beyond belief
    You can have your opinion of what RBB should do, but the people who have put five months of hard work into planning this event will not accept the restrictions and unequal treatment of an event that was all about combatting unequal treatment. Hiding the non-theists in an small indoor theater, besides it not being a big enough venue, does not send the message that non-theists are not alone and should be able to be open about who they are — which was the primary message of the event. RBB will only take place when it can take place as planned, as an outdoor event capable of accommodating every single person who wants to attend. If you think a smaller event should be planned, go ahead and try to plan one yourself.

  • if you don’t play by my rules, I’m going to take my ball and go home

  • I’m still curious what happened to the letter that was written to the base explaining their mistake in crowd estimation and re-requesting the parade field.

  • @end
    It was too late to begin an attempt to get the post to change its mind. We were only a month away from the event date, and RBB just could not string along the performers and speakers, or the other people coming from a distance and making travel arrangements, on the unlikely chance of a possibility that the event might still be able to take place on April 2. We weren’t going to have any more people lose money booking their travel to an event that would almost certainly have to be cancelled, so, after hours of discussion, the decision was made to cancel it at that point. If RBB is going to take place, it needs to be rescheduled for a different date in the future.

  • bs beyond belief

    Chris, you yourself state that RBB was “an event that was all about combatting unequal treatment”(not my spelling error), which admits that the intention was NOT about actually having an event, only proving that you would have a fight. Where is the proof that Dawkins has drawn thousands of people to outdoor event during which other ‘who cares’ performers will eat up the rest of the 8 hours? There is plenty of proof that RTF draws upwards of 10,000 people at outdoor venues, and it seems that Ft. Bragg used that proof to justify the parade field. While there is plenty of proof that Dawkins has drawn thousands, those venues were indoor settings on college campuses and the like. Can you imagine the humiliation Mr. Dawkins would suffer if Ft. Bragg were right, and only a few hundred people showed up to a venue that holds 30,000+ people?

    We atheists have used Carl Sagan’s famous phrase “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” when debating the validity of the bible. Here you are making extraordinary claims (‘thousands would attend’) with a mere presumption. Prove your claim before you cry foul.

  • @bs beyond belief
    dictionary definition of combat: “take action to reduce, destroy, or prevent (something undesirable).” The stigma faced by non-theists in the military that causes many of them to feel like they have to hide who they really are is “something undesirable,” so taking “action to reduce” this ‘undesirable something’ is “combating” it. You’re attaching a different definition to the word “combating” than what I intended by my use of that word, but that’s just because your intention is to have a fight rather than to get to the truth.

    There is plenty of proof that RTF only drew 2,000 to 3,000 people. Can you imagine the humiliation the Billy Graham people suffered when such a small audience turned up for their event?

  • @bs beyond belief
    And, just for the record, either “combatting” or “combating” are accepted as correct spellings of the word.

  • bs beyond belief

    You call 2-3000 a small group? If you were here on that day, you would understand why so many could not tolerate the insane heat and did not attend or stay. The parade field is not an easy venue to get to (parking is not close) or remain at (no seating, running water, or indoor plumbing) and there is no relief from the blazing sun. Of the people I knew who were really exited to be there, they said it was nearly impossible to stay. So 2-3000 people that actually attended is pretty impressive considering the circumstances.

  • @bs beyond belief
    That’s a very nice story, bs, except that it doesn’t match the facts. The crowd grew from 2,000 to 3,000 as the day went on. And one of the things blamed for the low attendance was actually another local event on the same day that is very popular. The heat didn’t keep people away from that other event. They just chose it over RTF.

  • If the issue is equitable treatment, then the discussion over the flow of attendees at Rock the Fort is pedantic and irrelevant. The approval was based on projections, since approval had to occur before the event. The same is true for Rock Beyond Belief. The approval was based on projections.

    Whether or not the predictions about Rock the Fort were correct is also irrelevant (with respect to approval and equal treatment; it is not irrelevant if one wants to imply that just as RTF was incorrect on the high side about attendance, so too might RBB). Rock Beyond Belief was given the opportunity to provide proof of their own predictions of their own event. They apparently failed to do so; Bragg did their own analysis, and RBB was free to “prove” those predictions wrong by exceeding expectations. They chose not to do so.

    RBB may yet occur. On one hand supporters are indicating RBB may occur in September (benefiting from the publicity of the manufactured scandal); on the other, it seems it will not back off its original demands.

    Since Col Sicinski has clearly stated the event will only occur if RBB pays for it, and RBB has said the atheist event will only occur if the government pays for it, something has to give.

  • bs beyond belief

    An indoor christian concert (the HORROR!) where people had to PAY to get in filled to capacity (nearly 10,000) while some waited outside just to be able to hear.

    I think Ft. Bragg knows what to expect here in the bible belt. Proving them wrong would have been a spectacular accomplishment for the secular community. What an awesome opportunity lost.

  • @bs beyond belief
    As I previously said, bs, if you think you can do better, go ahead and try to plan your own event the way that you think it should be planned. RBB is sticking to the event that it planned, which will take place when it can be the event we want it to be.

    And, as for the bible belt location affecting event attendance, Richard Dawkins said in his statement that he typically draws larger crowds in the bible belt because atheists, humanists, and other secularists have far fewer opportunities to see speakers like him in the bible belt.

  • bs beyond belief

    At least we know now that RBB will never happen. Now can we move on to a more interesting topic?

  • Hypcritical Xain

    So the United States military will provide assistance to a Christian event, but all others be damned. Sounds like a clear violation of the Establishment Clause and the 1st amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. Bigotry at its finest, just as it is promoted in the BuyBull. Hard to support a military that is based solely on one relligion’s dogma when it is supposed to be defending the Constiution, not violating it out right. Typical Christian hypocrisy. I think it’s time the Constitution was taught to soldiers so they understand just exactly what it is they are defending. Freedom! Not Christian values. If that was the case we’d still have slavery, women would be still not be able to vote or do much besides having babies. Along with a bunch of other atrocities promoted by that ancient rag. Evangelical Christians = Muslim extremists as far as I can tell.

  • @bs beyond belief
    We’re still planning on RBB happening, and are working on trying to reschedule it for the fall.

  • @Hypcritical Xain

    So the United States military will provide assistance to a Christian event, but all others be…

    Your conclusion is incorrect. You might consider reading the facts of the case.