US Army to Fund Atheist Rock Beyond Belief?

Not everyone can be right all the time, but when it comes to journalists, you think they’d at least try.

Reprinted at the Huffington Post, Religion News Service writer Kimberly Winston wrote on the recently approved “Rock Beyond Belief” to occur at Fort Bragg next spring.  Her article reads like a press release, not a news report.  Explaining the background of “Rock Beyond Belief,” she says

[Rock the Fort], staged by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, received more than $50,000 in financial support from the base, according to records obtained by local atheists through the Freedom of Information Act.

As the Army already pointed out, that’s a mischaracterization of the “records obtained.”

Winston then makes a statement that is known to be categorically untrue: 

“Rock Beyond Belief” was originally slated to be held last April… But it was canceled in April when the garrison commander refused to sign off on it. [emphasis added]

As is common public knowledge, the Army did “sign off on it,” and the event could have been held if the organizers had chosen to do so.

The use of factually incorrect information and disputed characterizations makes it difficult to believe another statement in the article which is “new news.”

[Rock the Fort] received more than $50,000 in financial support from the base… The nonreligious concert will receive the same funds and will be held at a similar venue at the base. [emphasis added]

Organizers have already said RBB will be held on the parade field; they have not said that $50,000 (donated from local military Christian congregations) will be used to fund their event.

The Christian Post wrote a somewhat more balanced article, and appears to have taken the unique step of actually talking to Fort Bragg.  Their article clearly (and correctly) says the organizers, not the Army, canceled the event last spring.  As to the funding,

“Rock Beyond Belief” had obtained over $30,000 from a donor, [Fort Bragg spokesman Benjamin] Abel said, adding that the fort would provide electricity, water and security for the event but not any direct financial assistance... [emphasis added]

Remember what Col Sicinski said last Spring?

We didn’t give any money to Rock the Fort. No appropriated dollars and no federal nonappropriated dollars went toward supporting that event. Now, we provided security, we provided the location. And that is exactly what we are willing to do for Rock Beyond Belief…

The Associated Press said the group raised $50,000, which is consistent with their own earlier announcement.

As to the use of the parade field,

Abel confirmed that Col. Sicinski had approved use of the parade field because “Rock Beyond Belief” had come up with enough money to pay for a stage, lighting, sound system and other expenses involved in setting up the grounds.

Again, remember what Col Sicinski said last Spring?

Sicinski said his decision [to deny the parade field] was aimed at essentially saving the concert [which lacked] fundraising, commitments from performers and speakers or ability to draw crowds that could sustain a large outdoor event.

It would appear the circumstances under which the event is being approved are the same conditions the Army has stated all along.

Contrary to the characterization of this as some kind of David-vs-Goliath effort to win equal rights for downtrodden atheists, its actually been nothing more than an education in event planning on RBB’s part.  They’ve stumbled along the way, which is understandable given the magnitude of their task and their apparent lack of experience in major event planning.  Again, they appear to have taken the feedback and executed on it, learning along the way.

It’s incorrect, however, to paint this as some sort of underdog defeat of institutional evil.  It’s contradictory for atheists to be ‘giddy’ over this ‘miracle,’ while ignoring the fact the Army gave them the same support last time, and the organizers declined.  It was far less dramatic than the “long fight” it’s been called: There were requirements to meet, and the organizers finally (after a few public tantrums) met them — just like any other group would have to do.

Unfortunately, the US Army and Fort Bragg (particularly Col Sicinski) have been publicly — and unjustly — vilified and excoriated by critics who (may have) thought they were defending mistreated atheists — not inexperienced atheists making their initial foray into major event planning.  While such criticism and name-calling may have occurred regardless, the vitriol was likely bolstered in some part by the “misrepresentation” of the Army’s treatment of this event.

Public information to date indicates Fort Bragg has treated “Rock Beyond Belief” consistently, both compared to its original approval and its treatment of any other requesting organization.  Any “reversals” by the parties in this situation (caused by media attention) have been on the organizers’ parts — like a sudden donor allowing them to abandon their demand for special treatment and government funding.  The Army’s actions appear, at least, to have been consistent.

As has been said here many times before, military atheists should have the same access as any other military religious group, using the same guidelines and criteria.  It’s a shame the US military has to be run into the ground at every opportunity by supporters for its support of their events.

In an interesting turn of events, “Rock Beyond Belief” was an atheist play on words following “Rock the Fort,” which was named because of its concert-like emphasis.  Every article on this recent second-approval of RBB has emphasized a single main feature of their event:  Richard Dawkins.  No word yet if they’ll rename their event “Talk Beyond Belief.”