Atheists Win Fort Bragg's Consent for 'Godless' Festival

A group of military atheists has announced that “Rock Beyond Belief,” an event initially planned for April, will now be held next spring as the Fort Bragg military base in North Carolina has finally agreed to host the festival featuring music, speeches and “godless” literature.

Modeled after and a reaction to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s “Rock the Fort” evangelistic event last year, the atheist festival will be held on March 31, 2012, “with the full support of” the military post, the event’s website says.

Sgt. Justin Griffith, the man behind the festival, says Fort Bragg commander Col. Stephen J. Sicinski has allowed the use of a centrally located parade field. “We’re extremely grateful to him for this opportunity,” he says.

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“This just might be the turning point in the foxhole atheist community’s struggle for acceptance, tolerance and respect,” Griffith adds. “It’s an amazing time to be a nonbeliever in the U.S. military on the cusp of a major breakthrough.”

The post commander had earlier refused to allow the festival to be held on the main parade field where Billy Graham’s “Rock the Fort” was held, which led Griffith to cancel the event scheduled for April 2. However, Griffith, with the backing of groups working for church-state separation, last month complained to the Secretary of the Army that the fort was discriminating against certain religious groups.

Cooperation was pledged. The New York Times Friday said a spokesman for the fort, Benjamin 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.

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

The festival was conceived as reaction to the BGEA event, which received manpower and financial support from the base command at the request of some chaplains. Griffith and other atheist groups objected to it, alleging it was an army-sponsored platform to seek converts.

The atheist festival is aimed at gaining acceptance in armed forces and invites public “free of charge, to see this revolution begin to bear fruit.”

Festival’s speakers include Richard Dawkins, who “regularly draws crowds in the thousands, especially in the so-called Bible Belt,” Griffith said. “On the rare occasions where his lectures and speeches are free, he sells out the capacity even faster than usual. None of this will be a problem for us, as our venue – the Fort Bragg Main Post Parade Field is home to the annual 4th of July celebration, with tens of thousands of attendees.”

“Vendors are going to be hawking godless books, stickers, t-shirts and of course food and drinks.” The group, which describes itself as “a small grass-roots outfit,” claims the backing of “many major secular and military foundations.”

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