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The Kings Bay Plowshares 7 in federal court today made oral arguments concerning the denial of the pre-trial motions to dismiss the charges against them. Appearing for the first time before Judge Lisa Godbey Wood, who will be the trial judge, four of the pro-se defendants and two of the lawyers spoke about why they felt Magistrate Benjamin Cheesbro had improperly ruled against them after two days of hearings last November. The main focus of today’s hearing was the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which is being used for the first time in a case like this.
Defendants were only given 90 minutes for all arguments. The government used 30 minutes of its allotted time. The courtroom was packed with more than 60 supporters inside, including actor and activist Martin Sheen, and 25 were kept outside for lack of space. It was the first time this year that the three defendants still incarcerated in the Glynn County jail for 16 months, Mark Colville, Fr. Steve Kelly, SJ, and Elizabeth McAlister, saw their codefendants. They have been prevented from in-person legal preparation since last November.
Stephanie McDonald, attorney for Martha Hennessy, began by arguing that the government failed to meet its obligations under RFRA. The law requires that there be specific and individual consideration for each defendant’s beliefs and actions.
Defendant Clare Grady said that the government’s attempted criminalization of the defendants’ religious practice is not only an undue substantial burden but is also a violation of RFRA, the law of the land. Mark Colville, Patrick O’Neill, and Carmen Trotta also spoke in court.
Bill Quigley, attorney for Elizabeth McAlister, began the closing argument by reminding the court of the bedrock religious belief “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.”
The judge invited additional responses within a week to arguments made today. She indicated that she would give thoughtful attention to these complex issues, and if necessary, would promptly schedule a trial.