Nov 27 2013

An $88,000 Piano for an Army Chapel? What Military Cutbacks?

Apparently, military cutbacks don’t apply to church music.

Sebastian Sprenger at Inside Defense reports that the Department of Defense has just spent $88,000 for a Steinway piano for a chapel at Fort Riley, Kansas, writing: “That’s some church piano. What might have gone into the Army’s decision to spend almost $90,000 on a concert-pianist grade instrument for a chapel in Ft. Riley, KS, when the service is facing for some serious cuts — not to mention government programs writ large?”

According to Sprenger, a spokesman for Ft. Riley, Kan. said the piano will be used during religious services inside a new chapel being built there.

(Inside Defense is a paid subscription site, so here are the links on the freely accessible Federal Business Opportunities website to what Sprenger found – the original solicitation, the contract award.)

I can’t say that I was surprised to hear about this example of outrageously extravagant spending on a military chapel when someone emailed me about it this morning. Back in 2011, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), the organization I work for, did a bit of investigation into just how much the military spends on religious programs. That 2011 investigation was sparked by two things — the complaints received by MRFF from soldiers who were being forced to attend events like Christian concerts, which led to the discovery of the outrageous amounts of money being spent on these religious events, and the excessive spending on military base “chapels” like the $30,000,000 mega-church at Fort Hood.

All of this leads me to something that I just can’t figure out.

In recent months, a coalition of fundamentalist Christian organizations along with members of Congress like Rep. John Fleming have been claiming that the persecution of Christians in the military is so great that service members are afraid to even go to church. But the reason given to justify the spending of outrageous amounts of money to build mega-churches on military bases is that there are so many service members attending religious services that our present military base chapels aren’t big enough to accommodate all of them.

Think about it. If service members are so afraid of being “outed” as Christians that they’re afraid to even go to church, as the organizations and Congress members crying Christian persecution claim, then how can there be so many service members attending worship services that the military needs to build mega-church size chapels to accommodate the large crowds showing up for services? Obviously, these two completely contradictory claims can’t both be true. Either service members are afraid to attend church or there are so many of them attending that our military bases need mega-church size chapels to accommodate them all. So, which is it?


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  1. 1
    Crimson Clupeidae

    “Think about it. ”

    …I think I see your problem, here. ;)

  2. 2

    Are christians in the military so few and so poorly paid that they couldn’t collect $200 from among themselves for an electronic keyboard? Amazon sells many good Casios and such for $150.

  3. 3
    Ubi Dubium

    I can think of one situation where the purchase of a Steinway might be warranted – where there are local groups who would pay to use the facility if it had a really nice piano. And the amount they are willing to pay should cover the cost of the piano in a reasonable amount of time. Or at least pay the difference between a Steinway and a moderately priced upright.

    I sing with a community chorus, we pay to use our performance venues, and our choice of venue is often affected by the piano or organ they have available.

  4. 4
    Al Dente

    Obviously, these two completely contradictory claims can’t both be true.

    You’re forgetting how the religious right simultaneously proclaims the US is a Christian nation while whining about how Christians are a relentlessly persecuted minority in the US. They switch from one position to the other depending on which one supports their argument.

  5. 5
    Marcus Ranum

    Jesus would have played a piano made out of cigar boxes, not a Steinway.

  6. 6

    For fundie Christians there is no difference between the bible and the military.

  7. 7

    Aren’t they still spending obscene amounts for minor gadgets from the defense manufacturers that would cost pennies on the dollar if purchased at a retail company that would be ecstatic for the sales?

  8. 8

    To quote Yogi Berra, “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.

  9. 9

    There is a third possibility – neither are true.

    Or is that too cynical?

  10. 10

    Is $90k really that much? Sounds expensive, but it sounds more just like the government overpricing a musical instrument (after all, concert pianos seem to go for about 25k-35k). That seems like a minor expense especially if they actually get a lot of use out of the piano. I hope they use the piano for more than just religious events.

    It just seems to me that the $30M mega-church is about 400 times a bigger deal.

  11. 11

    left0ver1under, a USD 150-200 Casio may perhaps not have all the keys ;-)

    But seriously, a nice enough digital stage piano (Casio Previa, Yamaha Clavinova and others) can certainly be had for about USD 1000.

  12. 12

    Olav (#11) –

    I was thinking more of the fact that the religious didn’t pass around the plate to pay for it themselves.

    The religious often say, “god will provide”. They must think the US government is “god”, since they expected the government to provide the money.

  13. 13

    But, left0ver1under, if the government is giving free pianos to atheists, muslims, buddhists and other devil worshippers, certainly the poor christians are entitled to a pretty black Steinway, too?

    Seriously though, if this “chapel” will also be used for secular functions, as some have suspected above, than it does seem fair that it is equipped with a few things that people may need or want. Chairs to sit on, perhaps a projector, a PA system, a piano. But even in that case there is of course still no need for a 88.000 dollar concert piano. And the 200 dollar Casio on the other end of the spectrum may not really cut it. That’s why I suggested a digital stage piano. Which is a still a professional instrument but reasonably priced.

    Example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEV9LeW_RRQ

  14. 14

    I’m wondering how they arrived at $88,000. Was it really $1,000 per key?

  15. 15

    Be grateful they were undoubtedly under a “buy American” requirement. They could have easily dropped a six-figure sum on a Bösendorfer instead.

  16. 16

    tmscott – that can’t be right, the constitution says a black key is worth only 3/5ths of a white key.

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