The Kings Bay Plowshares 7 Catholic anti-nuclear weapons activists and around 35 supporters spent nearly 9 1/2 hours in court yesterday (Nov. 8th, 2018) in Brunswick, GA. This was the first day of a motions hearing to argue through the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). They contend that the three felony and one misdemeanor charges the seven face for their trespass into the Kings Bay Trident nuclear submarine base on April 4th are an unfairly excessive burden on their religious practice. They ask that the charges be dismissed or reduced. After 7pm Judge Benjamin Cheesbro adjourned the hearing to a future date.
Two expert witnesses testified on how prophetic and sacramental nonviolent disarmament actions at a nuclear weapons site, such as the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 action was, is in alignment with Catholic social teachings. Jeannine Hill Fletcher, a Fordham University Theology Professor, reviewed Catholic teachings from writings of Popes and the 2nd Vatican Council. After referring to Pacem in Terris and Gaudium et Spes which condemn the use of nuclear weapons, she pointed to Pope Francis’ statement in 2017 that “The threat of their use, as well as their very possession, is to be firmly condemned.” She also spoke about the primacy of conscience going back to the 13th century teachings of Thomas Aquinas. She noted that Pacem in Terris affirms that, “laws and decrees passed in contravention to the moral order, and hence of the divine will, can have no binding force in conscience.
Bishop Joseph Kopacz from Jackson, MS, also spoke to the primacy of conscience having led the 7 to extraordinary action fully consistent with Catholic teaching.
The 1983 Peace Pastoral allowed for the possession of nuclear weapons for only a short time as a temporary step toward disarmament, but now after over 30 years nothing has happened. Actions, like the Plowshares “spiritual special ops team” have a chance of making change.
Jesuit Father Steve Kelly, his jailhouse shackles clanking as he crossed to the witness stand, testified that their action was religious, and constituted preaching the word of God that nuclear weapons are sinful. “This is very, very much a crisis, not only of existence,” he said of their message to base personnel, “but your souls are in danger.”
Codefendant Clare Grady emphasized that her action was “nonviolent symbolic disarmament.” She movingly told of her upbringing in a faithful and activist family informed by Catholic social teaching.
Captain Brian Lepine, Commander of Naval Station Kings Bay, testified for over two hours and repeatedly refused to acknowledge the existence of nuclear weapons on the Trident submarines at their homeport at Kings Bay.
Codefendants Mark Colville, Martha Hennessy, Carmen Trotta, Patrick O’Neill, and Liz McAlister will testify at the next hearing (TBA).
Video footage on the Kings Bay Plowshares Facebook page and the website.
kingsbayplowshares7.org for legal updates.