FFRF: FOIA documents Army’s ‘Rock the Fort’ subsidy

The Freedom From Religion Foundation today sent its second letter protesting Army involvement in the evangelical "Rock the Fort" festival to the commanding general at Fort Bragg, N.C. The latest letter objects to "pervasive abuses and inappropriate expenditures" related to "Rock the Fort," uncovered by a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Army made by the Foundation, received on Jan. 11.

The Foundation, which has over 16,000 members nationwide including many currently and previously serving in the U.S. military, had objected on Sept. 21, 2010, to the Army's support of the "Rock the Fort" festival, which took place Sept. 25 and was sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelical Association and Fort Bragg's Religious Support Office.

"While we do not feel we received a complete response to our FOIA request, a number of documents reveal a high degree of impermissible Army aid to 'Rock the Fort,' " said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.

Disclosed Army expenditures for "Rock the Fort" totaled $52,475.80, but FFRF estimates the undisclosed personnel costs to be much higher.

A "Memoranda of Instruction" (MOI) document shows that various departments at Fort Bragg were responsible for a majority of the tasks to organize and host "Rock the Fort." The Fort Bragg Event Action Officer alone was assigned 12 tasks, while the Billy Graham Evangelical Association was only responsible for four duties.

The "Fort Bragg Rock the Fort 2010 Budget" document shows that Army organizers of the event apparently spent over $6,450 of public money on food, benefitting local pastors, volunteers and guests. Hotel rooms for 39 "guests" cost taxpayers $7,168, and "escort vans" for artists cost $1,360. Apparently, one "worship service leader" was given a $1,500 honorarium. The Army spent over $12,000 on advertising the event. Thousands of taxpayer dollars were spent on Christian t-shirts, a climbing rock wall, children's activities and Graham ministry DVDs.

The Billy Graham Evangelical Association, with reported net assets in 2008 of $171,527,885, is clearly not in need of taxpayer subsidy, charged Gaylor.

"It is a gross misuse of taxpayer money to aid any Christian ministry," said Gaylor. "But it shows grossly misplaced fiscal decision-making on the part of Fort Bragg to subsidize an event put on by a multi-million dollar evangelical ministry! What a boondoggle!"

"Where taxpayer money goes, 'sunlight' and taxpayer accountability ought to follow," Gaylor noted.

A soldier is organizing a "Rock Beyond Belief" festival, planned for April, to counter "Rock the Fort," and to test whether the Army will lend its support to a festival celebrating nonbelief. Speakers tentatively include Richard Dawkins and FFRF Co-President Dan Barker, among others.

In a response to the original letter FFRF sent objecting to Army involvement in "Rock the Fort," Commanding General Helmick wrote that he is "willing to provide similar support to comparable events sponsored by similar non-Federal entities that address the needs of the Soldiers on this Installation."

Gaylor's Jan. 25 response: "Our preference is for Fort Bragg to refrain from hosting any religious (or non-religious) events of this nature, as beyond the constitutional limitations and purview of the Army. However, given your earlier response and the Army's repeated sectarian advancement of evangelical Christianity, it would appear incumbent that Fort Bragg must now offer the equivalent support and assistance to an alternative nonreligious event."

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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