FORT BRAGG, North Carolina (Reuters) - An atheist-themed festival drew hundreds of people to an Army post in North Carolina on Saturday for what was believed to be the first-ever event held on a U.S. military base for service members who do not have religious beliefs.
Organizers said they hoped the "Rock Beyond Belief" event at Fort Bragg would spur equal treatment toward nonbelievers in the armed forces and help lift the stigma for approximately 295,000 active duty personnel who consider themselves atheist, agnostic or without a religious preference.
Defense Department policy holds that all service members have the right to believe in any or no religion. But those gathered at the event described being ostracized and harassed in the military community for not believing in God and worried about getting passed over for promotions if their secularist stances were widely known.
"We're sending a message," said Justin Griffith, an Army sergeant stationed at Fort Bragg who spearheaded the event. "Foxhole atheists are out there fighting for your rights. Please return the favor."
The majority of U.S. adults consider themselves Christian, though there are signs the country is becoming less religious. The American Religious Identification Survey in 2008 showed a growing number of people identified as atheist, agnostic or having no stated religious preference, with 15 percent in that group in 2008 compared to 8.2 percent in 1990.