Huffpost Media
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Chris Rodda Headshot

How a Christian Fighter Pilot and FOX News Tried to Stop Fort Bragg Atheist Festival (And Failed)

Posted: Updated:

While the upcoming Rock Beyond Belief festival at Fort Bragg is starting to get more media attention as its March 31 date approaches, the event has also been the subject of increased attacks by those who are attempting to stop it from taking place.

For those who don't know what Rock Beyond Belief is, it's the secular answer to all the big evangelical and fundamentalist Christian concerts and festivals regularly held on bases throughout the military. One of these events, a Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Rock the Fort festival, held at Fort Bragg in September 2010, despite complaints that the military officially sponsoring such an event was an unconstitutional promotion of religion, and showed a government preference for Christianity. The response from the commander of Fort Bragg was that any other group could also hold a similar event. So, SGT Justin Griffith, an atheist soldier at Fort Bragg, decided to take Fort Bragg up un this offer, and began planning a secular festival, which would feature atheist and secularist speakers and musicians.

Over the past year and a half, I've watched SGT Griffith transform from a soldier who had an idea to one of the leading voices for atheists in the military, standing his ground in the face of every obstacle thrown in his path. This soldier has managed to put together an event to rival the largest events put on by large, well funded organizations like the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association -- all while serving as an active duty soldier, which included being deployed, becoming a father for the first time, and not being permitted to work on the event during duty hours (despite the fact that Fort Bragg had had a whole team of military personnel and DoD employees working for months on the Billy Graham.event). If our military is looking for leaders who can get things done, they certainly have one in SGT Griffith!

This event, a year and a half in the making, is about to happen, so, naturally, there has been a last ditch effort from its enemies to stop it. Leading this effort is an Air Force major named Jonathan C. Dowty, who runs a blog called christianfighterpilot.com, which he describes as his "ministry."

About a month and a half ago, Major Dowty's alarmist blog posts, full of misrepresentations and lies about SGT Griffith and Rock Beyond Belief, caught the eye of FOX News columnist Todd Starnes, who then wrote an article titled "Church-Burning Video Used to Promote Atheist Event at Ft. Bragg." Starnes's article linked to a blog post by Major Dowty titled, "Fort Bragg to Host Anti-Religion Band at Atheist Rock Beyond Belief," in which Dowty misrepresented the lyrics of a song by one of the bands in the Rock Beyond Belief lineup, claiming that this band advocated burning down churches. The attention of FOX News led to unwarranted last minute scrutiny by officials at Fort Bragg of the the Rock Beyond Belief lineup, and an attempt to place further restrictions on the event. But, once again, SGT Griffith stood his ground and prevailed.

Because SGT Griffith is an active duty soldier, he cannot respond to the attacks of Major Dowty without the fear of being considered insubordinate towards a superior officer, so I've been responding to these attacks on my blog at FreethoughtBlogs.com. But now that Rock Beyond Belief is getting more media attention, from sources such as the Religion News Service, and is likely to get more attention as the event date gets closer, I want to post these posts here so that a wider audience can see a part of this story that they won't get from other sources -- how one zealous Christian Air Force officer and FOX News attempted to cause last minute problems for Rock Beyond Belief, and how their plan backfired.

Disclaimer: The following are posts from my personal blog at FreethoughtBlogs.com. I am the Senior Research Director for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), but the opinions expressed by me in the following posts and all posts on my FreethoughtBlogs.com blog are my personal opinions, and not necessarily the opinions of MRFF.

Billy Graham Event Speaker Advocates Burning Military Bases

Originally published on March 7

Over the past month or so, much ado about nothing has been made over the content of certain songs performed by the band Aiden, one of the bands that will be performing at Rock Beyond Belief, the secular festival taking place at Fort Bragg on March 31.

The controversy over Rock Beyond Belief was manufactured by Air Force Major Jonathan C. Dowty on his Christian Fighter Pilot blog, described by him as his "ministry." Major Dowty's one man crusade against Rock Beyond Belief has consisted of a string of posts implying that non-theists are incapable of putting on a family friendly event. Clearly, the evil atheists plan to subject the babies at Fort Bragg to all manner of obscenity and evil before barbecuing them later in the evening for a tasty snack.

You guys remember Major Dowty, right? He's that Air Force officer who bullies and lies about atheist and non-Christian enlisted service members by name on his blog (including Rock Beyond Belief organizer Sgt. Justin Griffith), knowing that they can't respond to defend themselves because he's an active duty officer and they must respect his rank no matter what he says about them. Dowty is also disturbingly obsessed with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) and its founder Mikey Weinstein, having written hundreds of lengthy rants about or mentioning MRFF, Mikey, or other people associated with MRFF. Writing posts for his blog at a pace that any full time blogger would find difficult to match, one has to wonder when this Christian Fighter Pilot finds time to fly a plane. Major Dowty is also a member of the Officers' Christian Fellowship, an organization of over 15,000 Christian military officers who seek to "reclaim territory in the military for Christ," and raise up a military of "ambassadors for Christ in uniform."

What Major Dowty did as part of his quest to cause problems for Rock Beyond Belief was to write several posts about Aiden on his Christian Fighter Pilot blog, selectively highlighting and misrepresenting the lyrics of one of their songs. These posts were read by Dowty's new man crush, Todd Starnes of FOX News. Starnes, who was already in the habit of lying about and misrepresenting MRFF, jumped on Major Dowty's anti-Aiden, anti-Rock Beyond Belief bandwagon (if you can call a lone anti-atheist, religious fanatic blogger a bandwagon), writing an article titled "Church-Burning Video Used to Promote Atheist Event at Ft. Bragg," in which he linked to one of Major Dowty's posts.

Was Aiden really promoting arson in their song? Of course not. But that's no reason for FOX not to put out a headline implying they were.

Well, in a shocking development, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation has uncovered video of one of the speakers for the Billy Graham Evangelical Association's Rock the Fort events advocating the burning of military bases! (It was, of course, one of these Billy Graham Rock the Fort events, held at Fort Bragg in 2010, that sparked the idea for the secular Rock Beyond Belief festival.)

Footage from a promotional video from a previous Rock the Fort event at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri clearly shows that a Billy Graham Evangelical Association speaker who was appearing at that event was advocating burning down Fort Leonard Wood, very clearly saying that they were there to "SET THIS PLACE ON FIRE" and that they were going to commit this act of arson "FOR JESUS!"


Video doesn't lie! The Billy Graham Evangelical Association is clearly on a mission to burn down Army bases! Therefore, the U.S. military should ban all future Rock the Fort events!


Billy Graham Event Speaker Denigrated Religion At Fort Bragg

Originally published on March 9

2012-03-15-dowty2.jpg

As I wrote in my last post, Air Force Major Jonathan C. Dowty, the obsessive Christian zealot who for over a year has made it his mission to cause trouble for the upcoming Rock Beyond Belief festival at Fort Bragg, has focused on a song by Aiden, one of the bands in the Rock Beyond Belief lineup, misrepresenting the song's lyrics to claim that they advocate burning down churches. But this hasn't been Major Dowty's only line of attack. He has also repeatedly expressed his "concern" that the speakers at Rock Beyond Belief won't be capable of adhering to the rules. (And I'm sure that in between writing his numerous blog posts he's praying very hard that they don't so he can say "I told you so.")

The rule that Major Dowty doesn't think Rock Beyond Belief's speakers will be able to follow is that at events like this on military bases -- whether it's a religious event like the Fundamentalist Christian Rock the Fort or a secular event like Rock Beyond Belief -- the performers and speakers can't denigrate or be critical of other religions. For a secular event, of course, it wouldn't really be "other" religions, but any and all religion.

As I said, Major Dowty, apparently convinced that the raging atheists lack the self-control to follow this rule, has been repeatedly attempting to make his case for a whole year now.

In a post dated March 11, 2011, almost exactly a year ago, Major Dowty wrote:

"As previously noted, 'Rock Beyond Belief' invited Michael Weinstein and Richard Dawkins to speak, two men who make their livings being 'critical of other religions.'  Invited musical guests also have a history of similar criticism. Does anyone really expect they could fill a stage for 8 hours with people whose lives revolve around attacking religion and meet such a stringent requirement?"


And he's still at it a year later, writing a post a few days ago on March 7 titled "Fort Bragg Reminds Rock Beyond Belief of Appropriate Standards," and another one today titled "Army Atheist Concert Emphasizes Controversial Song in Lineup" in which he says:

"Griffith and his fellow atheists should be free 'to promote atheism and secular humanism.' They simply need to 'celebrate reason,' rather than 'denigrate religion' -- which, at every turn, seems to be what they really want to do."


Major Dowty insists in the above examples and all of his other similar posts that he's not against atheists being able to hold an event, but that it's just a matter of Rock Beyond Belief being "held to the same standards as other events, which included not being 'critical' of other religions." OK, that sounds fair. So, take a look at this video clip of a speaker at Fort Bragg's Billy Graham Rock the Fort event. I think this is a good one to get an idea of what those "standards" are.


Did you hear that? This speaker at Rock the Fort said that what "religion says" is wrong, didn't he? (That's a pretty typical statement from a fundamentalist "Bible believing" Christian to "denigrate" those mainstream, "not the right kind" of Christians believe.) He then stated what he believes to be true. And this was obviously acceptable under the "rules."

So, if the atheist speakers at Rock Beyond Belief make statements such as: "What religion says is wrong. There is no god," then they, too, will just be saying that religion is wrong, and then stating what they believe to be true. This will be no more denigrating of religion that what the Rock the Fort speaker said, right?

The speakers at Rock Beyond Belief should have no problem playing by the same rules as those at Rock the Fort if what that speaker said was permissible. Rock the Fort already set the precedent for being able to proclaim loud and clear that WHAT RELIGION SAYS IS WRONG!


Thank You Major Jonathan Dowty for Making it Possible for Rock Beyond Belief to be Openly Critical of Religion

Originally published on March 12

Thanks to an anti-atheist plan that backfired big time, the speakers and performers at the upcoming Rock Beyond Belief festival at Fort Bragg on March 31 will be able to be openly critical of religion with no worries of retribution for breaking the military's rules.

My friend and Rock Beyond Belief organizer SGT Justin Griffith has just posted the full story on his blog, but, being an active duty Army NCO, Justin can't name the Air Force officer responsible for this good news. BUT I CAN! It was Air Force Major Jonathan C. Dowty, a.k.a. the Christian Fighter Pilot.

As I wrote in the first of my two previous posts about Major Dowty's crusade to cause trouble for Rock Beyond Belief: What Major Dowty did as part of his quest to cause problems for Rock Beyond Belief was to write several posts about Aiden on his Christian Fighter Pilot blog, selectively highlighting and misrepresenting the lyrics of one of their songs. These posts were read by Dowty's new man crush, Todd Starnes of FOX News. Starnes, who was already in the habit of lying about and misrepresenting MRFF, jumped on Major Dowty's anti-Aiden, anti-Rock Beyond Belief bandwagon (if you can call a lone anti-atheist, religious fanatic blogger a bandwagon), writing an article titled "Church-Burning Video Used to Promote Atheist Event at Ft. Bragg," in which he linked to one of Major Dowty's posts.

In my second post about Dowty's crusade, I showed that if the speakers at Rock Beyond Belief were to be critical of religion, they would no more be in violation of the military's rules than a speaker at Fort Bragg's Billy Graham Rock the Fort event was.

When I wrote that second post, I was already aware that Justin had successfully negotiated with Fort Bragg's leadership and gotten in writing that the speakers and performers at Rock Beyond Belief could, in fact, be critical of "organized religion or its practitioners," but this had not been made public yet.

So, why are we thanking Major Dowty? Well, because it was his blog post about his "concern" over the lyrics of a Rock Beyond Belief performer being picked up by FOX News that caused Fort Bragg officials to scrutinize the Rock Beyond Belief lineup and attempt to require additional promises from the performers and speakers that they would not be critical of religion.

But Justin stood his ground, as he always does, and got it in writing that the speakers and performers at Rock Beyond Belief can be critical of religion (just like the speakers at similar religious events are, by the very nature of the promotion of their beliefs, critical of non-religion or what they deem to be "false" religions).

The full story and documents can be found on Justin's blog, but here's the paragraph giving Rock Beyond Belief's speakers and performers undisputed permission to speak freely about their views (emphasis mine):

"I recognize and understand that the Main Post Parade Field will be a limited public forum for the duration of the festival and appreciate that the language of the original draft may have concerned you, especially with regards to information that may be offensive to others' religion. I want to assure you that Fort Bragg will not discriminate against speech on the basis of its viewpoint. Stated another way, I understand and respect that there will be ample discussion about atheism and/or humanism during the festival and that the speakers may criticize organized religion or its practitioners..."

- Colonel Stephen J. Sicinski, Fort Bragg Garrison Commander


So, I'd again like to express my most sincere thanks to Air Force Major Jonathan C. Dowty, without whose diligent and obsessive attempts to thwart Rock Beyond Belief this declaration granting atheists their right to free speech would not have been possible. Far from his goal of restraining Rock Beyond Belief, Major Dowty has made it possible for the event's speakers and performers to be even less restrained than they were going to be!

So, in appreciation of the efforts of Major Dowty, here's a little song honoring fighter pilots everywhere: