Friday, March 04, 2011

Rock Beyond Belief Cancelled

Justin Griffith, organizer of the Rock Beyond Belief concert at Fort Bragg, NC, is now saying that the event will have to be cancelled.

Jen McCreight has a good rundown of the backstory, but the tl;dr version is that Billy Graham's organization held a "Rock the Fort" concert at Fort Bragg, with full support (monetary, personnel, and official endorsement) of the base, even though it was explicitly billed as an evangelical event.

When Griffith organized a similar secular event, he was originally promised a level of support similar to that given to Graham's organization. But then the base denied financial support to the event. And then said that all advertising for Rock Beyond Belief would have to carry a disclaimer that it wasn't endorsed by the base. And then the event was moved to a small indoor venue, rather than a larger outdoor one, which effectively killed it.

Now the Military Religious Freedom Foundation is planning to sue for religious discrimination, in violation of the first amendment.


I normally try to be fair, and to look at the other side before jumping to conclusions, but in this case I can't see this as anything but a giant dick move on the base commander's part, and an illegal one at that. I could have understood moving the event to a smaller venue, since Rock Beyond Belief could have been expected to draw a much smaller audience than Rock the Fort in North Carolina. Except, of course, that Rock Beyond Belief was supposed to feature Richard Dawkins, who could easily be expected to attract thousands of people.

If the facts reported by Griffith are correct, this should be a very simple case. Let's hope that this sends the message that the military (and the US governement in general) can't favor one religion over another, or religion over irreligion.

Update: I notice that used to have a bunch of pages about Rock the Fort, as recently as February, but these seem to have disappeared. Please tell me I'm paranoid for suspecting that they've been scrubbed in response to Rock Beyond Belief.


Don Wharton said...

For those that don't know tl;dr stands for too long dont't read.

marybellamy said...

I've read several longer posts about what happened in NC and it is still very unclear to me what happened.

Did the Rock Beyond Belief people reserve a larger venue and then have their reservation cancelled? Did they have a written agreement spelling out which expenses would be reimbursed? I've seen statements that the base commander promised support, and yet the quoted language I've seen is way too vague to be read as support for a specific event.

The one thing on which we might all be able to agree is that the original Christian event should have had no official support. But once again I wonder if the correct response to an outrage is to say --I want a piece of that -- rather than staying focused on fighting outrages.

arensb said...

Yes, as I understand it, Rock Beyond Belief was originally supposed to be an outdoor event, with things like a moonwalk for the kids. From Al Stefanelli's article at

"The US Army changed the venue from the outdoor main parade field, which would easily accommodate the thousands of people who were expected, plus vendors and equipment, to one of two indoor theaters, and the largest one only being able to fit roughly 700 people."

Richard Dawkins can easily fill 700 seats. Heck, you could probably fill 700 seats with a local Dawkins cover band.

And I don't necessarily agree that Rock the Fort should have had no official support: aside from being an Army base, Fort Bragg is a piece of federal land that can be used for non-military purposes, so hey, why not?

In addition, if the base has things like bleachers and PA systems for its own purposes, then it makes sense for a civilian event to use those rather than rent their own. And in that case, it makes sense for the base to provide people who know how to assemble the bleachers, run the audio, and so on. Providing coffee and doughnuts at planning meetings can fall under the general category of hospitality, and so on. So a lot of the things that were provided for the religious event don't bother me (except to the extent that Billy Graham's church can easily afford coffee and hotel rooms).

But the first amendment says that the government -- and by extension the military -- has to treat all religions equally, not favoring one religion or denomination over another, or religion over irreligion. It shouldn't matter whether the event is a tent revival, a Pagan picnic, or a left-handed plumbers' convention. The base should either help everyone, or no one.