When the average American thinks of military spending on religion, they probably think only of the money spent on chaplains and chapels. And, yes, the Department of Defense (DoD) does spend a hell of a lot of money on these basic religious accommodations to provide our troops with the opportunity to exercise their religion while serving our country. But that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the DoD's funding of religion. Also paid for with taxpayer dollars are a plethora of events, programs, and schemes that violate not only the Constitution, but, in many cases, the regulations on federal government contractors, specifically the regulation prohibiting federal government contractors receiving over $10,000 in contracts a year from discriminating based on religion in their hiring practices.
About a year ago, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) began an investigation into just how much money the DoD spends on promoting religion to military personnel and their families. What prompted this interest in DoD spending on religion was finding out what the DoD was spending on certain individual events and programs, such as the $125 million spent on the Army's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program and its controversial "Spiritual Fitness" test, a mandatory test that must be taken by all soldiers. The Army insists that this test is not religious, but the countless complaints from soldiers who have failed this "fitness" test tell a different story. The experience of one group of soldiers who weren't "spiritual" enough for the Army can be read here. But the term "Spiritual Fitness is not limited to this one test. The military began using this term to describe a variety of initiatives and events towards the end of 2006, and this 'code phrase' for promoting religion was heavily in use by all branches of the military by 2007.
Although it was clear from the start of MRFF's investigation that determining the total dollar figure for the DoD's rampant promotion of religion (which is always evangelical and/or fundamentalist Christianity) would be next to impossible, as this would require FOIA requests to every one of over 700 military installations to find out how much each is spending out of various funds at the installation level, one thing we could look at was DoD contracts, so that's where we started. What we've found so far is astounding.
Even though this is still an ongoing project, and we'll certainly be finding much more, I thought that given all the current brouhaha over what should be cut from the federal budget, people might be interested to see some of examples of how the DoD is spending countless millions of taxpayer dollars every year to Christianize the military.
As mentioned above, what MRFF is looking at does not include chaplains or chapels -- not even the excessive spending on extravagant "chapels" like the $30,000,000 mega-church at Fort Hood, or the "Spiritual Fitness" centers being built on many military bases as part of what are called Resiliency Campuses. The examples below are all strictly from DoD contracts, with the funding coming out of the appropriations for things like "Operations and Maintenance" and, somehow, "Research and Development." (Summaries of all contracts referenced below are publicly available at usaspending.gov)
Evangelical Christian Concerts Under the Guise of "Spiritual Fitness"
One of the most direct expenditures of money on religious proselytizing, under the guise of "Spiritual Fitness" spending, is the funding of concerts with the top evangelical Christian performers. These concerts are most prevalent on Army posts, although they also occur on installations of other branches of the military. One concert series that stands out, both because soldiers were punished last year for not attending one of the concerts and because of the cost of hiring the musical acts, is the "Commanding Generals' Spiritual Fitness Concert Series" at Fort Eustis and Fort Lee in Virginia. This is not a chapel concert series, but a command sponsored "Spiritual Fitness" program, paid for with DoD contracts.
All of the performers for these Spiritual Fitness concerts so far (this concert series is ongoing) have been evangelical Christian artists. Not only is the music itself overtly Christian, but during the concerts there are light shows of large crosses beamed all over the stage, and the performers typically give their Christian testimony or read Bible verses between songs. Some of these performers have Blanket Purchase Agreements and Indefinite Delivery Contracts good until 2012 or 2013, indicating that this concert series is planned to continue at least through the next two years. The total amount of money awarded so far for this concert series, including the amount remaining on Blanket Purchase Agreements and Indefinite Delivery Contracts, is $678,470. This figure is only for the performers fees, and does not include all the other expenses associated with putting on concerts on the scale of those being held at these Army posts.
The following are the amounts of the contracts awarded to Christian talent agencies and bands for this "Commanding General's Spiritual Fitness Concert Series."
- Street Level Artist Agency: $153,000 spent to date, $22,000 remaining on a $50,000 Blanket Purchase Agreement (good until 2012)
- Gregg Oliver Agency: $46,000 spent to date, $54,000 remaining on a $100,000 Indefinite Delivery Contract (good until 2013)
- James D Griggs: $9,900 to date, $141,100 remaining on a $150,000 Blanket Purchase Agreement (good until 2013)
- Titanium Productions, Inc.: $33,470 spent to date, $100,000 remaining on a $100,000 Blanket Purchase Agreement (good until 2012)
- SonicFlood: $24,000 spent to date, $76,000 remaining on a $100,000 Indefinite Delivery Contract (good until 2012)
- The Samoan Brothers LLC: $20,000 spent
(For these talent agencies and bands where the "amount spent to date" and "amount remaining" on the Blanket Purchase Agreements and Indefinite Delivery Contracts are not equal, it is because these talent agencies have been awarded more than one contract. For example, Titanium Productions, Inc. had contracts totaling $33,470 that were separate from the $100,000 Blanket Purchase Agreement for future concerts in this concert series.)
Evangelical Christian Facilities for Strong Bonds and other "Spiritual Fitness" Retreats
According to an Army spokesperson on the Pentagon Channel, the Army's Strong Bonds program receives at least $30 million a year in DoD funding. This program of pre- and post-deployment retreats for soldiers and their families are often evangelical Christian retreats, many held at Christian camps and resorts, with evangelical Christian speakers and entertainers.
A search of DoD contracts for the last few years shows that at least 50 of the locations where Strong Bonds and other Spiritual Fitness retreats are regularly held are evangelical Christian camps, resorts, and conference facilities.
The site regularly used by Fort Sill, for example, is Oakridge Camp & Retreat Center, which has received over $500,000 in DoD contracts and has hosted approximately 60 retreats. Oakridge not only requires its employees to be Christians, but even goes as far as requiring on its employment application that the applicant state their views on issues such as abortion and homosexuality. While a private religious organization is free to impose a religious test on its staff, it is quite a different matter for a DoD contractor to do this. And, in the case of Oakridge, it is not only the facility's staff who must adhere to the its Christian beliefs, but all of its guests as well, including the soldiers attending Fort Sill's Strong Bonds and Spiritual Fitness retreats.
For example, the first paragraph of Oakridge's "Policies & Guidelines" for its guests states: "Oakridge is a private Christian retreat center, not a hotel. Therefore, there may be some guidelines and policies that may not seem 'hotel-like.' This is our purposeful intent. Oakridge does not serve the 'general public,' but only those interested in a Christian camp perspective." Moreover, guest groups must attend an "Oakridge Orientation," and it is stated in the "Policies & Guidelines" that "prayer will be offered for all groups at every meal in Jesus' name."