Atheist Speakers/Performers Issue Statements of Intent for Fort Bragg Event March 23, 2011

Atheist Speakers/Performers Issue Statements of Intent for Fort Bragg Event

You know by now that Rock Beyond Belief, the rally for atheists in the military, was canceled due to restrictions put upon organizers by Fort Bragg officials.

According to Sgt. Justin Griffith, one of the problems officals had was that the speakers/performers never issued a “Statement of Intent” saying we were coming.

That was because we were never told to issue such a statement… It’s not like the Christians had to do that for their (similar) event.

But forget the fact that it’s too late. The speakers are sending them now!

Richard Dawkins wrote this:

I wish to put clearly on record my strong intention to attend, and speak at, the Rock Beyond Belief festival at Fort Bragg, now sadly cancelled because of (blatantly discriminatory) lack of support from the officer commanding Fort Bragg. ‘Statement of intent’ is putting it mildly. I was hugely looking forward to it, and it was, indeed, my main reason for travelling all the way from England, at my own expense. I also announced my intention to accept no honorarium, so keen was I to support the festival. The suggestion that the festival could not have filled a large hall is absurd. Even when talking on my own, I regularly draw enthusiastic crowds by the thousands, especially in the so-called ‘bible belt’ where beleaguered non-believers flock to hear somebody articulate what they have long thought privately but never felt able to speak.

Professor Richard Dawkins FRS, DSc.,
University of Oxford

Rapper Baba Brinkman also said no to an honorarium:

It has recently come to my attention that questions are being raised as to the seriousness of my compact with SGT Justin Griffith to perform at a concert event he was organizing at Fort Bragg for April 2nd called “Rock Beyond Belief”. Please allow me to clear up any confusion by saying that I did confirm this gig with SGT Griffith, in writing, and although my usual fee to perform is around $2,000 I had also agreed in writing to waive my honorarium for the event, because the cause (equal treatment of those with divergent religious beliefs, including atheists) is one I believe in strongly.

The most emotional letter I’ve read comes from Founder and President of The Freethought Society, Margaret Downey:

My heart is heavy as the date of April 2, 2011 approaches on the calendar. It was a great honor to have my name on the Fort Bragg “Rock Beyond Belief” speaker’s list. Bigotry and prejudices abound and now I see that I must cancel all plans to attend, speak and to socialize with people who would have attended.

The purpose of my April 2, 2011 presentation was to not only advise like-minded individuals know that they are not alone, but I was also excited to represent a misunderstood minority. My presentation was written to erase negative stereotyping of the nontheist community and I intended to share a personal story with the audience.

My son served in the United States Air Force as an Intelligence Office and Scientist, but as a young teen, he experienced, first-hand, extreme prejudice at the hands of the Boy Scouts of America — the world’s largest youth group. Our story is compelling. The journey we took as a patriotic family would have enlighten others about the harm of negative stereotyping. We had an important message that would have benefited many.

My family was willing to underwrite our expenses and we did not expect any honorarium in order to participate in the “Rock Beyond Belief” event. The message we wanted to deliver was far more important than any monetary value.

It has come to my attention that the event organizer, Justin Griffith was not previously informed that any “statement of intent” would be required. I am, therefore, officially sending this email to you as proof that my family and I were planning to attend. I was planning to speak and my family was looking forward to helping me tell our story.

I am astounded that Evangelical Christians did not need to meet a “statement of intend” requirement. This is unfair and shows prejudice to a purely secular educational event — “Rock Beyond Belief.”

This incident is now recorded in the Anti-Discrimination Support Network’s narrative database. The United Nations Freedom of Religion or Belief ( occasionally reviews the database and I am sure the Special Rapporteur will find the circumstances very curious. The favoritism shown to the religious community and the mistreatment of the nontheist community is unethical and does not serve to solve diversity appreciation problems.

World peace is not possible until intolerance is replaced with understanding and appreciation of all worldviews.

On April 2, 2011, Fort Bragg officials will miss an opportunity to help gain a better social understanding of a wide variety of beliefs and viewpoints. I do hope that consideration for rescheduling are underway.

Nontheists deserve a place at the table — equally and without prejudice.

Margaret Downey

My “Statement” isn’t nearly as gripping as the rest of them, but I was ready to attend, forgoing any payment, and I was honored to be invited.

If Rock Beyond Belief gets rescheduled, I’ll do everything in my power to attend the event. It’s ridiculous that Fort Bragg officials set up enough red tape to destroy what would have been an inspiring, memorable event.

On a side note, Justin has a great tattoo of the A Symbol that I had to share:

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  • Kahomono

    that ‘A’ tat is huuuuge!

    I have been considering the same ink, but probably on my left arm — where I used to put t’fillin! But it’d be, oh, about 1/5 the size of Justin’s….

  • World peace is not possible until intolerance is replaced with understanding and appreciation of all worldviews.

    What a beautiful and true statement. Her whole statement is eloquent, but that stood out to me. So many in the faith community cry discrimination, but are silent when real discrimination happens (or worse, support that discrimination). I hope that these statements will cause those in charge to rethink the decision to cancel the event.

  • Marilin

    We’re stationed at Ft. Bragg and this is the first I’m hearing about it….. I really hope it gets rescheduled because I would so love to attend!

  • Strange that the army can’t see the obvious conclusion that this leads to – if they only care about the soldiers because they are Christian then the fact that they are soldiers is irrelevant. Basically, they don’t give a crap about the welfare of soldiers at all – just the welfare of Christians, irrespective of their military/civilian status.

    I wouldn’t want someone who didn’t give a damn about me making decisions that would put me into harm’s way.

  • So let me get this straight, the army stands to protect our country from enemies foreign and domestic – but takes issue with blacks, women, gays and now atheists serving to protect our freedom?

    So basically only straight, white christian jocks deserve freedom?

  • Ron in Houston

    World peace is not possible until intolerance is replaced with understanding and appreciation of all worldviews.

    I suspect many people are not self aware enough to really understand or appreciate any worldview other than their own.

    Call me cynical, but I’d say that wishing won’t make it so.

  • the sad truth is that the military, ours or any nation’s, is almost always a tad FUBAR. making sense? following logic? don’t expect that from your command. ever. hoping for logical and sensible command gets soldiers dead, and promotes ambitious generals to political office. which is on purpose. that has been true since “the military” was an idea in the mind of the first man.

    i’m wholly underwhelmed, as a vet, by these developments. hypocrisy and illogic are *exactly* what i was trained and experienced to expect while serving. it’s just the nature of ‘the business.’

    still, sorry you all won’t be able to put up your show. nonetheless: the fact that you tried? i guarantee service members are speaking about this topic as much or more so as they would’ve if you’d shown up. that’s the upside. controversy is its own PR, and effective at that.

  • Thanks for all the support everyone. The secular community has really come together for this cause, and we really appreciate it.
    There were far too many of those ‘Statements of Intent’ to post all of them, and a few continue to trickle in. Mikey Weinstein’s mentioned the situation as an ‘after the fact pre-requisite’. I think we needed to invent a word for this: post-requisite. A new oxymoron for the world! Roy Zimmerman’s was hilarious, as you might expect. Anyway, each person was gracious enough to deliver their own, and I can’t help but to think that Fort Bragg literally asked for it.

    Many of you have written to us regarding the commentary you’ve received from Fort Bragg via email interactions. Please continue to do so, as we are finding a great number of inaccuracies and half-truths being circulated.
    For instance: yes, they ‘approved’ the event, and yes we cancelled. However, they embedded crippling restrictions and very last minute at that. We never accused them of cancelling our event, and have been quite clear about this. They continue to point to this fact in a manner that obfuscates the real issue(s): they were not willing and able to provide us the same level of support as promised. This includes critical funding for lodging and meals, as well as the venue. The funding is quite complicated indeed. Non-appropriated funds (NAF) are not taxpayer $, but are still very much government controlled. We asked to use the same funds, and also brought to the table several other solutions via other NAF’s that already exist solely for this purpose! The general public’s unfamiliarity with these issues makes it easy for these things to get lost. I’m expanding and clarifying all of these details in a section on the main site called “The Great Rock the Fort Swindle” – a variation of the Sex Pistols bragging about taking lots of money from record labels for albums they never intended to make.

    @marlin: you should you join our Military Atheists & Secular Humanists (MASH) meetup group. We’ve got an important meeting on Friday, and you should check it out!

  • Demonhype

    Wasn’t there a lawsuit in the works over this? I haven’t heard anything about that since someone mentioned the possibility of the MRFF and either the FRFF or ACLU (both?) getting together some legal action or complaint. Is that still going forward, does anyone know?

    I don’t “like” the military, but nearly all my reasons to dislike it are heavily connected with my interest in keeping it out of the hands of insane evangelical/fundamentalist religious nuts–the idea of such an institution becoming the Right Hand of some Christian Police State would scare the living bejebus out of me, if he had ever been in there in the first place! Not to mention that I don’t have to like an institution to support equal treatment in that institution. Plus, I fucking hate hypocrites who are willing to use particular groups of people for their own purposes, but can’t see their way clear to extending equal protection or rights or even respect to those people. So I really hope there is some kind of legal action being taken on behalf of all the disenfranchised soldiers, not just for them (which is important in itself) but for what this kind of trend could mean to the nation and to the world.

  • dave

    Wow. Those were great! It sounds like the event won’t be happening this year. But maybe next year, the powers-that-be will see the error of their ways, and do better. Here’s hoping…

  • Nordog

    World peace is not possible until intolerance is replaced with understanding and appreciation of all worldviews.

    That’s just crazy talk.

  • S

    Good for you Sgt. I have to admit I don’t think I could have made a statement the way you have when I was serving. I was generally disgusted with how the military pushed religion constantly but there was no way to truly communicate my displeasure with the constant proselytizing. Hopefully soldiers in the future will be able to serve without taxpayer paid religious officials filling their heads with nonsense.

  • Nick Andrew

    That’s quite a tat. I hope he never changes his mind.

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