Updated with Weinstein quote.
Just a few days after announcing its planned date, the atheist response to the Billy Graham “Rock the Fort,” “Rock Beyond Belief,” has been cancelled – not by the US Army post at Fort Bragg, which had agreed to host it, nor by critics, who have been silent or nonexistent.
“Rock Beyond Belief” cancelled itself. And as predictably as the sun rising in the East, Michael Weinstein has announced plans to sue the US Army as a result.
It almost seems like choreography.
The reasons for the cancellation include an apparent lack of financial support from Fort Bragg and the venue provided by Fort Bragg. Importantly, more than the money or the location Fort Bragg was providing, Michael Weinstein has made an issue of what the Army was providing when compared to the prior “Rock the Fort:”
An advocacy group that watches for signs of religious bias in the military says it plans to file a lawsuit over the cancellation, arguing that Fort Bragg leaders have shown clear favoritism toward evangelical Christians at the expense of other groups…
Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and a planned speaker for the event, said his group plans to file the lawsuit.
Update: In fact, Weinstein says it was all about “Rock the Fort,” not “Rock Beyond Belief:”
“We feel that we’ve been completely bamboozled,” Weinstein said. “This is a scandalous outrage by the U.S. Army to have led us on for months thinking that we would be allowed to have an event to counter their fundamentalist Christian orgy that they allowed.” (emphasis added)
Weinstein’s quote is misleading, since the decision by the Army was to approve, not disapprove, the event. His insinuation about ”favoritism” in financial support is surprisingly disingenuous. In its approval of the event, Fort Bragg’s Col. Stephen Sicinski said:
Rock Beyond Belief will maintain responsibility for all expenses associated with performers and presenters, transportation, audio/visual support, and meals for associated performers and presenters.
Thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request by another atheist organization, the official documentation following last year’s “Rock the Fort,” now publicized, said this:
All artist flight fees, all artist performance fees, and all stage fees were funded by Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
The accusation of “favoritism” is based solely on the Army’s announcement of approval, and nothing in that approval indicates a financial treatment unique to “Rock Beyond Belief.” Thus, the guidance given to “Rock Beyond Belief,” contrary to the Weinstein accusation, seems to be consistent with what occurred during Rock the Fort. (For what its worth, Fort Bragg doesn’t say RBB couldn’t ask the military for funds; it only said that RBB, not the military, is responsible for the expenses.)
With regard to the venue, RBB had wanted to use the parade field, as had “Rock the Fort.” From Sicinski’s approval:
As [the] planned program consists of 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.
Nothing in the approval of the atheist event indicates any malice; in fact, it appears the Army was even trying to be helpful. Unlike “Rock the Fort,” “Rock Beyond Belief” did not have bouncy castles, face painting, parachutists, or other events that required outdoor facilities. Even some RBB supporters have ribbed the event because, despite having “Rock” in its name, its program is almost entirely invited speakers, not musical artists. No public statement to date has indicated anything other than speakers and singers would be at the event. A theater (seating 700, according to some sources) seems entirely appropriate.
While Weinstein may not like the order approving the military’s hosting of the event, no one ever claimed the military would provide everything “Rock Beyond Belief” wanted. General Helmick and his staff repeatedly said they would provide “similar support” for “comparable” events. The “support” in the approval was not altogether inequitable compare to that seemingly provided to other events.
Again, the event was approved. No person in the military said atheists could not fellowship with like minded non-believers. “Rock Beyond Belief” chose to cancel itself. The approval order also did not deny “Rock Beyond Belief” any further support they might think to request.
For his part, Weinstein has a history of going off prematurely. (See, for example, the reason his previous lawsuits against the military have been dismissed: he filed his lawsuits before normal administrative systems had been used, and the courts tossed out the lawsuits as a result.) This case is no different. In his typical “fire, aim, ready” mantra, Weinstein planned his attack on the Army poorly.
Weinstein has said he plans to sue because the US Army showed “favoritism;” ie, it did not provide the same level of support to “Rock Beyond Belief” as it did “Rock the Fort,” thus “favoring” the Christian event over the atheist one. His case would have been demonstrable if the atheist event actually happened. Since it didn’t, any support they may have gotten is now conjecture. In addition, different is not the same as inequitable. For example, accusing the Army of violating the Constitution because it authorized the parade field for one event but a theatre for the other is not actionable discrimination. There is no Consitutional guarantee to the same geographic real estate from one group to another.
So why did the plug get pulled? There are a couple of speculative reasons:
Rock Beyond Belief sincerely cannot continue without financial support for the invited speakers. If that is the case, it was correct to cancel the event, but wrong for Weinstein to accuse the Army of disparate treatment. Contrary to the accusations, the financial guidance to the events appears to have been similar.
Rock Beyond Belief was never going to happen without a scandal. Not that those who wanted it weren’t sincere, but Weinstein’s prior conduct (see, for example, USAFA) has indicated that no matter how far the military has bent over backwards trying to make him happy, he still finds reason to complain (or sue).
Rock Beyond Belief may still happen. It didn’t have to be canceled, and it can still be reinstated. The “on again, off again” accusations may be an effort on Weinstein’s part to raise publicity or funds; regrettably, at the expense of the US Army’s image.
Michael Weinstein knew this was the best he could get. If “Rock Beyond Belief” had gone off without a hitch, Weinstein’s mantra of the victimhood of the non-Christian in the US military would have suffered. Weinstein’s cause benefits from a perceived “hostility” between the military and non-Christians; to have a “smooth” event for non-Christians in the same US military he accuses of being “Christianized” would have undermined his efforts. In addition, if RBB had partially filled a large theater, it would be difficult to later complain about the Army’s support because actual attendance numbers would defend the Army’s response. Thus, in order to use “Rock Beyond Belief” to further his agenda, Weinstein has to use it now, and he gets more publicity from it being “cancelled” than complaining but allowing the event to proceed.
As already stated, “Rock Beyond Belief” can still go on, and there is no apparent reason it shouldn’t. Atheist servicemembers are free to fellowship together, and Fort Bragg is even offering to provide them a forum to do so on a grand scale in its approval of “Rock Beyond Belief.” Whether or not RBB chooses to use it is its own decision.
There is nothing in Fort Bragg’s response that indicates their level of support has anything to do with the ideology of the event. In addition, there is nothing in Fort Bragg’s approval that prevents the event from occurring.
It remains to be seen whether Weinstein will follow through on his legal threat, as he frequently fails to do. He previously indicated he was unable to find a lawyer in all of North Carolina willing to take his case.
Which might tell you something…
Also at the Christian Post.