Fairness at Bragg
It may be hard for most of us to equate an atheist rally with a Christian one. But the United States Army has no choice but to do so.
Authorities at neighboring Fort Bragg found themselves in a difficult, no-win situation earlier this year. The previous September, a group of evangelicals had staged an extravaganza called "Rock the Fort," which was heavily promoted by base chaplains, received great financial backing, and drew a large crowd. Then, earlier this year, a smaller group of nonbelievers demanded equal time.
Last year's Rock the Fort had made many thinking - even believing - Americans acutely uncomfortable. Reason: It appeared to throw a lot of official logistical and sometimes moral support behind an event that celebrated one particular set of religious beliefs, violating the bedrock American principle of separation of church and state. There was nervous laughter about giving new meaning to the words "Onward, Christian Soldiers."
Then came the proposal for "Rock Beyond Belief," originally set for last April. Touching off a whole different kind of discomfort, it would include its own featured music and speakers, including an atheist writer named Richard Dawkins.
Going on the argument that the second event would attract a much smaller audience, the garrison commander - who no doubt had more important matters on his plate - offered a Solomonic compromise: The atheist event could have the use of a base theater, instead of the big, open parade field in which the Christian concert had taken place.
Civil liberties groups protested, claiming unequal treatment, and the deal fell through. Now the Army has reconsidered. "Rock Beyond Belief" will take place in March 2012 on the main parade field.
That is as it should be. Let the atheists have their day, no matter what you personally may think about it. Then go about your business, secure in the knowledge that the U.S. government has wisely refrained from giving one religion (or lack thereof) favorable treatment over another.
It's the American way.
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