The Freedom From Religion Foundation has formally protested a March 1 decision by Col. Stephen Sicinski, garrison commander at Fort Bragg, N.C., to deny promised support for a nonreligious event slated for April.
FFRF had vigorously protested Fort Bragg’s support of the “Rock the Fort” event last fall cosponsored by the base’s Religious Support Office and the Billy Graham Evangelical Association.
When the Army refused to back down, FFRF pointed out that the base had set a precedent which would now require it to offer the same support of a nonreligious event. Enlisted soldier Justin Griffith organized the “Rock Beyond Belief” event, set for April 2, featuring speakers such as Richard Dawkins and FFRF’s Dan Barker. The event has now been canceled due to lack of equal support by the military.
In his March 3 letter of objection to Lt. Col. Nelson Van Eck Jr. (Staff Judge Advocate), FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott wrote: “This unequal treatment violates the Establishment Clause, Free Speech Clause, Equal Protection under the Law and DoD regulations.”
FFRF previously received two written assurances that such an event would receive the same level of generous support from the Army base.
Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, the commanding officer at the time, wrote FFRF on Sept. 22: “[I] am willing to provide similar support to comparable events sponsored by similar non-Federal entities that address the needs of the Soldiers on this Installation.”
Van Eck, Jr., Staff Judge Advocate, wrote FFRF on Feb. 17:
“With regards to support for future events comparable to the Rock the Fort event, Fort Bragg continues to be willing to provide the same level of support to comparable events proposed by non-federal entities.”
In early March, Sicinski wrote Griffith, a freethinking soldier at Fort Bragg, that he could not have the requested venue of the parade field for “Rock Beyond Belief.” Sicinski also said all advertising materials must include a disclaimer that there is “no endorsement by Fort Bragg, the US Army, or Department of Defense,” although the Billy Graham Association was given no such instructions.
Sicinski also 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.”
Yet FFRF’s Freedom of Information Act request to Fort Bragg yielded responses showing at least $52,475 was directly spent on the evangelical event including for various meals, transportation, performers and presenters, apparently by the Religious Support Office of Fort Bragg. Personnel costs, such as entertainment by the Golden Knights Parachute Team, security, etc., were not disclosed.
FFRF has appealed its FOIA request because Fort Bragg was partially unresponsive and unclear in its FOIA response.