Thursday, 11 August 2011

Go-ahead for atheist festival on US Army base

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Earlier this year I reported on a dispute between American atheist and religious freedom organisations and the US Army over a proposed non-religious festival at the Fort Bragg base in North Carolina.

Rock Beyond Belief, which was due to feature Richard Dawkins as the headline act (speaking, not singing, I might add), was organised as a response to an evangelical event, Rock the Fort, which took place on the base last autumn. Sgt Justin Griffith, a soldier based at Fort Bragg and chief organiser of the Military Atheists and Secular Humanists (MASH), pointed out that the army would be violating the First Amendment of the US constitution, which guarantees government neutrality on religion, if it did not allow an equivalent non-religious event, and set about organising Rock Beyond Belief. The event was due to go ahead in April, but fell through due to various difficulties with funding and logistics, which Sgt Griffith blamed on a lack of cooperation from the authorities at Fort Bragg.

However, the organisers did not give up, and they have revealed this week that Rock Beyond Belief will now go ahead on 31 March 2012 on Fort Bragg's main parade field, with Dawkins again lined up as the star turn. Announcing the news, Sgt Griffith said:
"This just might be the turning point in the foxhole atheist community’s struggle for acceptance, tolerance and respect. It’s an amazing time to be a non-believer in the U.S. Military on the cusp of a major break-through."
Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which campaigns against religious discrimination in the US armed forces (we interviewed him in New Humanist a few years ago), also welcomed the news, saying:
"It's not a victory for atheism or agnosticism over any type of religion, it's a victory for the Constitution."

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