Plowshares RFRA case closes in on ruling
· Nov 20, 2018
After two full days of testimony, the attempt by the Kings Bay Plowshares defendants to get their charges thrown out as violations of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act isn’t over yet. U.S. Magistrate Judge Benjamin Cheesbro, after a request by defense attorney Bill Quigley, announced he would allow additional but limited briefing, and is putting together an order to that fact.
The seven defendants all face charges of conspiracy, destruction of property on a naval installation, depredation of government property and trespassing for their roles the evening of April 4 and the early morning of April 5, breaking into Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay and allegedly vandalizing areas near the storage of nuclear weapons and a static missile display.
Defendants Martha Hennessy, Mark Colville, Carmen Trotta, Elizabeth McAlister and Patrick O’Neill took the stand Monday, following Nov. 7 testimony from co-defendants Father Stephen Kelly and Clare Grady.
Hennessy, the granddaughter of Dorothy Day — a woman who was called in a 2012 New Yorker article on her possible canonization “perhaps the most famous radical in the history of the American Catholic Church” — discussed at length what she learned growing up, and especially from Day, on how faith is to guide actions. Hennessy said her actions at Kings Bay were as “as profession of my faith and my responsibility as a citizen.”
Day was a founder of the Catholic Worker movement, and the ideals of that movement have been a key discussion point during the two days of testimony, including strong beliefs of pacifism and against war in all its forms, but nuclear war in particular, and how those beliefs have a basis in religion.
Hennessy said she would have sinned by omission by not acting to do something that would move the nation forward to denuclearization. She said her conscience wouldn’t allow standing by and accepting what she called the idolatry of nuclear weapons and the acceptance of the permanent war economy.
Unsurprisingly, further testimony from the defendants ran along these lines, as they did at the Nov. 7 hearing — a lifelong commitment to the Catholic faith, and how that strong faith moved them to act numerous times to bring light to and counter what they see as evil and injustice.
Kings Bay’s very existence, Colville said on the stand, conflicts with God’s law. He said to allow Kings Bay to continue its operations without doing anything would be a sin of omission and interfere with his relationship with God.
“I went there for repentance in my complicity with nuclearism…,” Colville said.
In addressing part of the RFRA matter — whether the government went about doing what it needed while placing the least possible burden on those practicing their religion — prosecutors repeated a process from defendant to defendant, bringing up their criminal record. The defendants each have lengthy histories in Catholic social justice efforts, and a number of those efforts ended up in arrests and, for some, convictions.
Remarks by the prosecution in the case thus far have gone to the argument that anything less than criminal prosecution could not dissuade the defendants. But, as noted by the criminal histories entered into evidence, the defendants are not strangers to being prosecuted, especially by federal authorities. Several of the defendants admitted in testimony that they served years in prison as a result of other acts against perceived injustice.
In other matters, Cheesbro decided not to change the conditions of O’Neill’s pretrial release, though a probation officer submitted a petition to revoke his bond. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karl Knoche said at the outset that the U.S. Attorney’s Office was not pushing for him to be remanded to jail, and further discussion between O’Neill and Cheesbro appeared to paint a picture of honest confusion. Knoche asked the judge to preset O’Neill with a last- warning admonishment, which Cheesbro did at the end of the discussion.
A number of the defendants who are presently on pretrial release, but subject to ankle monitors and curfew, presented passionate arguments about why they should now be allowed release on personal recognizance bonds, but Cheesbro said their circumstances hadn’t really changed since the former magistrate signed the current set of bond modifications.
Attorney Stephanie McDonald, speaking for Grady, said Grady at least needs to end the ankle monitoring, because it’s exacerbating a medical condition involving the defendant’s nervous system. Cheesbro said he would reserve judgment on whether to modify Grady’s bond specifications until she was able to provide documentation from medical personnel explaining the need.
Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-323-1607; Email: mobuszewski2001 [at] comcast.net. Go to http://baltimorenonviolencecenter.blogspot.com/
"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs