The U.S. Army recently announced its investigation of the claim that dozens of soldiers stationed at Fort Eustis, a military base in Virginia, were punished for not going to a concert.
On May 13, roughly 80 soldiers stationed at the base were apparently reprimanded and put on lockdown for opting out of attending the concert featuring a Christian rock band called BarlowGirl, which describes itself as taking “an aggressive, almost warrior-like stance when it comes to spreading the Gospel and serving God.”
This, including the sheer nature of the event, made many soldiers, especially those not of the Christian faith, uncomfortable and pressed to skip the event. A few days after, a group of soldiers who were not in attendance at the concert contacted the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, where they reported that at 5:30 p.m. on the day of the concert the entire company of soldiers (around 250 people) was to march to the event.
To make sure no one would skip out, they were prohibited to go back to the barracks.
There were rumors that the soldiers would be given a choice to stay or return to the barracks once they reached the event, and at the moment, this seemed to appease the soldiers who were either of different faiths or simply uninterested.
Below is an excerpt from the report, sent by one of the soldiers to MRFF:
“At the theater, we were instructed to split in two groups; those that want to attend versus those that don’t. At that point what crossed my mind is the fact that being given an option so late in the game implies that the leadership is attempting to make a point about its intention. The ‘body language’ was suggesting that ‘we marched you here as a group to give you a clue that we really want you to attend…”
Due to this “intention,” many soldiers remained at the concert in fear of possible repercussion. The soldiers who decided not to attend (approximately 80) were walked back to the company area, at which point the non-commissioned officer issued a punishment. “We were to be on lockdown in the company (not released from duty), could not go anywhere on post … We were to go to strictly to the barracks and contact maintenance.
If we were caught sitting in our rooms, in our beds, or having/handling electronics … and doing anything other than maintenance, we would further have our weekend passes revoked and continue barracks maintenance for the entirety of the weekend,” The report continued.
The Commanding General’s Spiritual Fitness Concert Series (“spiritual fitness” being a new military term for promoting religion, particularly evangelical Christianity) was first conceived by Maj. Gen. James E. Chambers. Chambers started holding concerts like these in June of 2008 at Fort Lee.
“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,” said Chambers.
However, there was no diversity amongst performers; each one was an evangelical Christian who did more than just sing about their faith. Additionally, these events were not run by the chaplain’s office but the commanders themselves. In the end, we need to be more concerned about things the troops really need, things like equipment, ammunition, aid, and so on… not on evangelism.