Garrison Commander Col. Stephen Sicinski at Fort Bragg said the hosting of “Rock the Fort” was a non-issue. “We don’t treat soldiers who are atheists as atheists, we treat them as soldiers,” he said. “They’re soldiers first.”
The U.S. military hosted an event meant specifically for atheist and agnostic soldiers for the first time Saturday on the grounds of a large Army base in North Carolina.
“Rock Beyond Belief,” an event featuring secular speakers and musicians, was held on the main parade ground at the Fort Bragg military base. It was modeled after the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s “Rock the Fort” evangelistic event that was held at the same venue in 2010.
“I love the military,” The Associated Press quoted Sgt. Justin Griffith, main organizer of the event and the military director of American Atheists, as saying. “This is not meant to be a black eye.”
The organizers claim on the event’s website that they are not interested in being a counter-event to the “offensive” “Rock the Fort” concert, or in putting on an anti-Christian, anti-religious event. “Rock Beyond Belief” is a day of fun and entertainment, they say.
Griffith had invited Christian soldiers to the event, and had said a free barbecue meal would be provided to the first 1,000 Department of Defense cardholders.
Atheist and agnostic soldiers at Fort Bragg have been pushing for gaining recognition as a faith group that would have the right to hold meetings inside the facilities. And Saturday’s concert, attended by a few hundred people, was also aimed at making a case for that demand.
Prominent British atheist Richard Dawkins was a speaker. “We’re never antagonistic toward religious believers, we’re antagonistic toward religious belief,” he claimed.