Professor Jeannine Hill Fletcher of Fordham University reads a statement she prepared about the King’s Bay Plowshares action being fully in accord with centuries-old, fundamental Catholic social teaching. In court this morning Prof. Fletcher provided deeply moving testimony about the depth and clarity of Catholic social teaching around nuclear weapons and the need for sacramental, prophetic action to call the community out of this sin.
KINGS BAY PLOWSHARES HEARING CONTINUED
The Kings Bay Plowshares, 7 Catholic anti-nuclear weapons activists, their lawyers and over 30 supporters spent nearly 9 1/2 hours in court yesterday in Brunswick, GA. This was the first day of a motions hearing to argue that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act applies to their case. They contend that the three felony and one misdemeanor charge the seven face for their entry onto and actions within the Kings Bay Trident nuclear submarine base on April 4 pose an excessive burden on their religious practice. They ask that the charges be dismissed or reduced. After 7pm with two expert witnesses for the defense and one for the prosecution and only two defendants having been able to testify, Magistrate Judge Benjamin Cheesbro adjourned the hearing to a future date.
Two expert witnesses testified on Catholic social teaching about nuclear weapons. Jeannine Hill Fletcher, a Fordham Professor of Religion, reviewed Catholic teachings from writings of Popes and the second 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 of 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 activists to extraordinary action as being 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.” He noted he will have spent 100 months in prison, half in solitary confinement, by the time of his 70th birthday in January.
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. “My parents raised us with a sense of a loving, caring, compassionate God.” She believes that the plowshares action was prophetic and sacramental with the potential to change themselves, the naval base and the world.
Captain Brian Lepine, Commander of Naval Station Kings Bay, testified for over two hours for the prosecution and repeatedly refused to acknowledge the existence of nuclear weapons on the Trident submarines at their homeport at Kings Bay.
This post reproduces the report sent out by the Kings Bay Plowshares today and draws from video footage on their Facebook page.