U.S. Soldiers Punished For Not Attending Christian Concert
Any doubt that this was an evangelical Christian event was cleared up by the Army post's newspaper, the Fort Eustis Wheel, which ran an article after the concert that began:
The father of the three Barlow sisters who make up the band was also quoted in the article, saying, "We really believe that to be a Christian in today's world, you have to be a warrior, and we feel very blessed and privileged that God has given us the tool to deliver His message and arm His army."
A few days later, some of the soldiers punished for choosing not to attend this concert contacted the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). The following is from the account sent by one of those soldiers to MRFF, detailing what transpired that night.
The account of another soldier who did not attend the concert, which relates the same sequence of events and punishment that occurred, also adds that some of the soldiers who did decide to attend only did so due to pressure from their superiors and fear of repercussions.
The Commanding General's Spiritual Fitness Concert Series was the brainchild of Maj. Gen. James E. Chambers, who, according to an article on the Army.mil website, "was reborn as a Christian" at the age of sixteen. According to the article, Chambers held the first concert at Fort Lee within a month of becoming the commanding general of the Combined Arms Support Command and Fort Lee in June 2008. But he had already started the series at Fort Eustis, as the previous commanding general there. The concerts have continued at Fort Eustis under the new commanding general, as well as spreading to Fort Lee under Maj. Gen. Chambers. The concerts are also promoted to the airmen on Langley Air Force Base, which is now part of Joint Base Langley-Eustis.
In the Army.mil article, Maj. Gen. Chambers was quoted as saying, "The idea is not to be a proponent for any one religion. It's to have a mix of different performers with different religious backgrounds." But there has been no "mix of different performers with different religious backgrounds" at these concerts. Every one of them has had evangelical Christian performers, who typically not only perform their music but give their Christian testimony and read from the Bible in between songs.
Another problem with these concerts, besides the issues like soldiers being punished for choosing not to attend them, is that they are run by the commanders, and not the chaplains' offices. It is absolutely permissible for a chaplain's office to put on a Christian concert. It is not permissible for the command to put on a Christian concert, or any other religious event. Having a religious concert series that is actually called and promoted as a Commanding General's Concert Series is completely over the top.
And then there's the cost. These concerts aren't just small events with local Christian bands. We're talking about the top, nationally known, award-winning Christian artists, with headline acts costing anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000, and even many of the opening acts being in the $10,000 range.
The cost of these concerts led MRFF's research department to start looking at some of the DoD contracts for other "spiritual fitness" events and programs, and what we found was astounding. One contract, for example, awarded to an outside consulting firm to provide "spiritual fitness" services, was for $3.5 million.
MRFF was already aware that exorbitant amounts of DoD funding were going to the hiring of civilian religious employees by military installations, the expenses of religious (almost exclusively evangelical Christian) programs, and extravagant religious facilities, but the extent of this spending goes far beyond what we had initially thought it amounted to. Therefore, MRFF has decided to launch an investigation into exactly how much the military is spending on promoting religion.
Do the recently announced plans of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to trim defense spending include any trimming of the military's outrageous spending on the promoting of religion and evangelizing of our troops? This alone could save the DoD untold millions every year, and go a long way towards upholding our Constitution at the same time.
editor - Talk To Action contributor Chris Rodda is Head Researcher for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that combats illegal and unconstitutional religious coercion in the United States military. Rodda is also author of Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternate Version of American History. MRFF was founded by Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein, an Air Force Academy Honor Graduate who served in the first Reagan Administration. MRFF's work was the subject of a May 2009 Harper's Magazine story by journalist Jeff Sharlet, Jesus killed Mohammed: The crusade for a Christian military. For more reading on this subject, see Top Ten Ways to Convince the Muslims We're On a Crusade and this list of other additional Talk To Action stories concerning MRFF research
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