Old friends and new hearts. After the Washington D.C. Reason Rally and American Atheists Convention, it had been a long week for the Freethought movement. And many expected low spirits and low turnout at the Rock Beyond Belief concert at Fort Bragg on Saturday (March 31.) They were proved resoundingly wrong.
The event started as a response to a similar rally produced by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association on the same parade ground a few years ago. One man, Sgt. Justin Griffith, believed, for the sake of equality, there should be a secular concert to show the Freethought community could give just as powerful a response.
This was Rock Beyond Belief. Despite earlier rain, the sun shone down as around 2,000 people gathered to hear music, speeches and to simply settle back with friends. Unlike the Reason Rally, with throngs of the proudly unchurched, this was a simpler gathering of bunches of groups, relaxing and enjoying great entertainment and powerful messages.
Circling the grounds were booths from every major group, local and national, welcoming all and excited to see old friends return. The Student groups were there, as well, and everyone in the Freethought movement sent a strong and happy “hurrah” to the troops and all those gathered under tents around the field.
The speakers ranged from the headliner of the week, Richard Dawkins, along with the powerful voice of American Atheists‘ David Silverman, to Justin Griffith himself, who gave a moving and passionate speech on the importance of fairness and balance in our country’s military.
This was not, as had been portrayed in the press, an event about conflict, but rather a simple celebration of the rational non-theism so often hidden in our nation’s military. Many had predicted a large protest in response, but there were only a couple handing out pro-faith flyers.
There is no doubt that this event was a success.
What, then, was the point of an event like Rock Beyond Belief? It was simply to show this – our military services demand equality of faith and expression. This should mean, in the long term, that religious festivals of any kind have no place on the bases used by our brave men and women who give this country military service. Rock Beyond Belief was not intended to be the first of many, but rather a challenge to our military leaders to exclude religiosity in all forms from the governing of service members. Let us, in the future, have entertainment, but let it be without religion, be it Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Atheist, Buddhist or other. Let our service men and women get on with the job of protecting our country and keep all religions back in the pulpit where they rightfully belong.
This was the message that Rock Beyond Belief intended to send, and they managed it with passion, noise and style. Bravo, to Justin and his team! We must hope that our military leaders hear the outcry far beyond the parade ground.
Editor’s note: Check back for photos from Rock Beyond Belief.