The Kings Bay Plowshares 7 carried out their symbolic disarmament on the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. (Provided photo)
This is a guest commentary submitted by Garry Thomas. It was not written by The Ithaca Voice. To submit commentaries, email tips@ithacavoice.com.

ITHACA, N.Y. — Ithaca local Clare Grady will be heading back to Federal Court on November 7 in the US District Court in Brunswick, Georgia, for an evidentiary hearing in the Kings Bay Plowshares Nuclear Disarmament Case. Grady and six co-defendants were arrested at the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base on the coast of Georgia on April 4 of this year, after having entered the nuclear submarine base and poured their own blood on a bunker housing nuclear warheads. The action was held on the anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The seven arrested have been charged with Conspiracy, Destruction of Property on a Naval Station, Depredation of Government Property and Trespass. If found guilty, they face up to 25 years in federal prison. Clare Grady and her co-defendants have countered the charges with an indictment of their own, citing the US government with war crimes. “We have come to Kings Bay to answer the call of the prophet Isaiah (2:4) for ‘nations to beat swords into plowshares . . . and neither shall they learn war anymore.’”

Court has been scheduled for November 7 at 10 a.m. in the United States District Court before the Honorable Benjamin W. Cheesbro, Magistrate. Grady and her co-defendants will argue on the basis of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that the charges against them should be significantly reduced or even dismissed. The standard established by RFRA requires the federal government to use “the least restrictive means” to limit religious practices.

This Religious Freedom Restoration Act defense has been used previously in cases where Native Americans have been charged with the use of hallucinogenic drugs in traditional ceremonies and in a suit supporting a community of Catholic nuns protesting a gas pipeline being imposed on their property. This is the first time the RFRA has been used as a defense in a Plowshares action. As a defense memo filed in the case makes clear: “The defendants exercised their sincerely held Catholic beliefs by symbolically disarming nuclear weapons. The government is substantially burdening the defendants’ exercise of those same beliefs by seeking to enforce, through criminal prosecution, federal statutes that prohibit trespass and protect property (‘trespass and property statutes’).”

The defendants will each have the opportunity to testify as to the nature of their religious beliefs and how, on April 4, their obligation to act upon those beliefs led them to undertake acts of symbolic disarmament at the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base. This base is the homeport to at least six Trident nuclear submarines, each of which is armed with thermonuclear weapons, carrying multiple warheads, seven to 25 times the explosive power of the weapon that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945. As Mark Colville, one of the defendants, declared in an affidavit previously submitted to the court: “Nuclearism doesn’t simply stand apart from Christianity. It refutes all of the basic tenets of Christian faith….” Others expected to testify on their behalf include Bishop Joseph Kopacz of Jackson, Mississippi.

About the Author: Garry Thomas is a longtime Ithaca resident and a member of the Quaker and Ithaca Catholic Worker communities. You can reach Garry at thomasg@ithaca.edu.

Featured image: Ithacan Clare Grady (left) with her Kings Bay Plowshares co-defendents prior to their action on April 4 (Courtesy of the Kings Bay Plowshares)