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Fort Bragg Support Of Graham Evangelistic Event Broke Military Rules, Watchdog Group Says
Americans United, Allies Urge Top Brass To Ensure That The Military Doesn’t Sponsor Proselytizing In The Future
WASHINGTON - July 5 - Americans United for Separation of Church and State today asked U.S. Army leaders to ensure that officials at Fort Bragg in North Carolina don’t sponsor events that give selective benefits to religious groups.
In a letter sent todayto Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh and commanders at Fort Bragg, Americans United and allied civil liberties groups take issue with “Rock the Fort,” an evangelical Christian rally that took place at the installation in 2010.
The event, sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, was heavily promoted by Fort chaplains and received $50,000 in financial support and $30,000 in logistical and security support.
“‘Rock the Fort’ was clearly designed to evangelize people into a conservative form of Christianity,” said Ayesha N. Khan, Americans United legal director. “No branch of the government, much less the Army, has any business promoting an endeavor like that.”
Americans United, the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina and the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the military about the Rock the Fort event.
After studying the documents and doing additional research into military rules, the three groups have determined that officials at Fort Bragg violated several Department of Defense regulations by supporting Rock the Fort.
“Supporting an event designed to increase membership in Christian churches cannot be squared with [Army] regulations, much less with the First Amendment,” observes the letter. “Furthermore, based on the Army’s own admissions, it is clear that Fort Bragg officials engaged in substantial co-sponsorship and support of Rock the Fort – support that cannot plausibly be deemed ‘incidental.’”
The letter asks Army Secretary McHugh and other officials to ensure that the Army strictly adheres to constitutional mandates and rules barring selective benefits to religious organizations. It also asks that the military refrain from supporting any event that promotes religion and to provide proper training to personnel at Fort Bragg to ensure adherence to military regulations in making decisions about partnering with outside organizations.
It also asks the Army to provide a venue and support to “Rock Beyond Belief,” a non-theistic event planned after the controversy over the Graham rally, to the extent that this can be done consistently with the Constitution.