US: Christian peace campaigners jailed for protest

A group of five Christian peace campaigners, including two  Catholic priests and a nun, who protested at  a nuclear base in Washington State, were given jail sentences this week, ranging from six to 15 months, plus a year's supervised release.

The Disarm Now Plowshares activists: Fr Bill 'Bix' Bichsel, SJ, Susan Crane, Lynne Greenwald, Fr Steve Kelly, SJ, and Sr Anne Montgomery, RSCJ ,entered US Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor to "symbolically disarm" the nuclear weapons stored there were sentenced yesterday at the Tacoma Federal Courthouse.

Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, and others testified on behalf of the defendants.  Bishop Gumbleton, retired bishop of Detroit and founding president of the peace group Pax Christi, testified that the Catholic Church has spoken out very strongly against nuclear weapons, saying that no use of nuclear weapons can be justified morally.  “We must abolish these weapons before the earth is destroyed.”

Ramsey Clark, US Attorney General under President Lyndon B Johnson, testified that never in his life has he encountered such unselfish people as those who participate in the Plowshares tradition of direct action against nuclear weapons.  Regarding their decision to live a life of civil resistance, he said, “Their consciences tell them they have to do it.  God will bless them for it and the courts of the United States should too.”

About 250 people gathered at the court to support them with their presence, song, and prayer. After the trial, they sang peace songs and processed out as a group, celebrating the beacon of hope the five activists have been for their community.

Anabel Dwyer and Bill Quigley from the group's legal team said:  “The problem is that nuclear weapons and the rule of law can’t exist side by side. The other problem is, we cannot disarm nuclear weapons unless through the rule of law.  We are in a conundrum here.”

Quigley submitted that lawyers are obligated to “understand difference between law and justice and to narrow that gap.”  He encouraged the judge to look back one hundred years and consider how many of the laws of that time were “legal but manifestly unjust.”  

Dwyer is a Michigan attorney and Board Member of The Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy (LCNP), and an expert in humanitarian law and nuclear weapons.  Quigley is the Legal Director for the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York and Professor at Loyola New Orleans.

Each of the five co-defendants read statements in court.  They focused on the personal responsibility they feel to disarm nuclear weapons, and their desire to prevent pain, suffering, and death for “those deprived by our wars and military budget of a human way of life.”

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