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Kings Bay Plowshares argue for charges to be dismissed

The seven Catholic activists called the Kings Bay Plowshares returned to federal court in Brunswick last week to argue for the dismissal of their charges.

The seven anti-nuke activists allegedly broke into Kings Bay in April 2018 and “poured blood on the ground, hammered on the sides of a monument, hung banners and painted messages protesting nuclear weapons,” according to court records. They face federal criminal charges for their actions and have argued that the possibility of criminal prosecution imposed a substantial burden on their religious beliefs under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).    

In April, a federal magistrate judge recommended denying their motion to dismiss the criminal charges based on the religious freedom act.

“Simply put, defendants could have asked permission to protest on the Kings Bay facility but declined to do so without any religious motivation for doing so,” the judge wrote in his report.

The activists filed written objections, then returned to court last week to counter that report. Dozens of supporters, including actor Martin Sheen, packed into the courthouse with more standing outside and participated in fasts and vigils for the anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 6, 1945.

The plowshares had 90 minutes to present their oral argument before federal judge Lisa Wood. One of the defendants’ attorneys, Stephanie McDonald, opened by arguing that the government didn’t meet its obligations under the act. 

“The law requires that there be specific and individual consideration for each defendant’s beliefs and actions,” according to a release from the defendants.

Several of the defendants also made statements in court, saying that they needed to be at “the scene of the crime” with the Trident missile display to perform the sacrament and that their actions were nonviolent and cannot be separated from their sincerely held beliefs.

“Our desire for nuclear abolition is being criminalized because of our religious requirement for a presence on the base to point out and uphold the rule of law,” defendant Martha Hennessy said. “… Criminal prosecution and imprisonment would be a substantial burden on the practice of our religious belief in our responsibility to protect human life, in being able to attend Mass on a daily basis and to continue the daily works of mercy caring for the poor in our houses of hospitality.”

Another attorney, Bill Quigley, closed out the arguments by talking about the commandment “thou shalt not kill.”

“He summed up his comments by noting that the atrocities committed by Hitler and Stalin would pale in comparison were the Trident nuclear weapons ever used. He said, ‘In 30 minutes after launch millions of innocent people would be killed,’” according to the release.

The judge gave them a week to file additional motions. The defendants plan to file motions asking Wood to consider releasing the three defendants who are being held without bond and lifting the curfew and ankle monitor requirements for the other four.

Tribune & Georgian

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