Atheists Cancel Concert after Military Refuses to Sponsor

Organizers were forced to shut down an atheist concert scheduled to occur at a North Carolina military base after the military refused to endorse the event.

Sgt. Justin Griffith, a self-described "foxhole atheist" soldier stationed at Fort Bragg, has canceled the Rock Beyond Belief concert he was organizing after receiving notice that the concert would not be endorsed and/or subsidized by the base or the military.

Griffith says the military's reaction to the event fashioned after the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's Rock the Fort is "a giant step backwards." He is now threatening to sue with the help Michael Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

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The Rock Beyond Belief concert was conceived after the Freedom from Religion Foundation and fellow atheists protested the Army's support of the September 2010 Rock the Fort.

BGEA staff member Wanda McCurdy said of the event's purpose, "There is a lot of stress in that particular area for school-age children because of deployments."

McCurdy said the purpose of the concert was to offer military families a sense of security and peace.

Atheist-agnostic group FFRF and Americans United for Separation of Church and State said the event summed up to mass conversion.

Late last year, Griffith, a former Christian, began organizing an atheist "rock" event. The event was to be a free festival featuring speakers such as British atheist Richard Dawkins and FFRF's Dan Barker as well as popular atheist musicians such as comedic singer Roy Zimmerman.

The Rock Beyond Belief was set for April 2 until a March 1 letter from Col. Stephen Sicinski of the U.S. notifying organizers that that while the military approved of the event, there would be no endorsement by Fort Bragg, the U.S. Army or the Department of Defense.

Griffith and FFRF are largely objecting: Sicinski's decision to disallow the event from being held on the main post parade field on Fort Bragg, the same venue for Rock the Fort; the requirement to include a disclaimer in all advertising materials that there is no endorsement by Fort Bragg, the U.S. Army or the Department of Defense; and the lack of support for the event expenses.

Documents from the event organizers show its actual cost amounted to $54,490.

Griffith wrote on the Rock Beyond Belief website that whole thing is an act of discrimination against the non-religious military community.

"They legitimized the proselytizing efforts of the Evangelical Christian membership drive known as Rock the Fort," he said.

Griffith also does not believe that Fort Bragg is holding true to statements Lt. Gen Frank Helmick made a response to protests of Rock the Fort that Fort Bragg would be "willing to provide similar support to comparable events sponsored by similar nonfederal entities that address the needs of the soldiers on this installation."

"It disheartens me a little bit to think that we're being misrepresented," Sicinski told the Fay Observer.

Sicinski said Fort Bragg's market analysis determined that Griffith's event would draw, at best, hundreds of people. Events at the parade field need an expected crowd of 5,000 or more, Sicinski said.

Weinstein questioned their analysis.

"Their market analysis has all of the credibility you'd get when you have the fox guarding the henhouse," he told the Observer. "Our reply to everything is five little words: tell it to the judge."

There is no word whether the Weinstien will continue with the lawsuit.

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