Federal judge rules against Kings Bay Plowshares’ motion to dismiss charges under RFRA, October 21 trial date set

UPDATE: Trial date set for October 21.
BRUNSWICK, GA  –  On August 26, a federal judge denied all the pre-trial motions of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7. The activists had urged U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood to dismiss their charges for numerous legal reasons as well as the fact that the hundreds of first strike nuclear weapons on the submarines based at Kings Bay Naval Base are illegal and immoral.
The judge found the Plowshares did establish a prima facie case under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because they were sincerely religiously motivated to challenge the nuclear weapons at the Naval Base. Wood also found that the government’s actions substantially burdened their right to exercise their religious beliefs. However, the judge went on to rule that the government had a compelling interest in keeping unauthorized people out of the base and the prosecution of the Plowshares activists was the least restrictive means of protecting the safety of the base.

The Plowshares argued that the government bringing multiple duplicative charges threatening 25 years is far from the least restrictive option to keep unauthorized people out of the base. On April 4, 2018 the seven activists entered the naval base in St. Mary’s, Georgia. They undertook various nonviolent actions such as pouring blood, hammering on a statue of a Trident II D5 missile, and placing crime scene tape in front of the entrance to a headquarters building.
“We took these actions to say the violence stops here, the perpetual war stops here – at Kings Bay, and all the despair it represents,” said Clare Grady, one of the Kings Bay activists. “We took these actions grounded in faith and the belief that Jesus meant what He said when He said, ‘Love your enemies,’ and in so doing offers us our only option for hope.”
The next step is a jury trial in federal court presided over by Lisa Wood in Brunswick, Georgia. No trial date has yet been set. The judge wrote the trial would be scheduled “promptly.”  
The judge’s 19-page opinion is posted here
AUGUST 27, 2019

Plowshares Trial Set for October 21

BRUNSWICK, GA – A day after denying their motions for dismissal, a federal judge has set the date for a trial by jury of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7.

Jury selection will begin on Monday, October 21, 2019 at 9 a.m. at the federal courthouse in Brunswick, GA.

Supporters from throughout the country are expected to attend the trial. Earlier this month nearly 100 people attended events around the hearing held by Judge Lisa Wood, who will oversee the October trial.


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from the Brunswick News

Court denies Plowshares’ motions to dismiss

Hours of testimony and extensive pages of briefs and responses led to a 19-page order by U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood who, Monday, ruled against seven anti-nuclear peace activists who broke into Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in April 2018 in what they termed was a religious protest covered by federal law.

The Kings Bay action is one of a series of similar actions, dating back around 40 years, by the Plowshares movement. However, this is the first time a group of defendants used the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 as a defense to criminal charges.

“RFRA cannot be used as a defense to a criminal charge if the federal law at issue did not substantially burden the defendant’s exercise of religion,” Wood wrote. “Thus, a threshold inquiry is whether defendants can show that the federal laws at issue substantially burdened the exercise of their sincerely held beliefs.

“Notably, the beliefs and resulting actions that are at issue are those that gave rise to this action. In other words, the beliefs ay issue are those that defendants testified led them to their actions at Kings Bay on April 4th and 5th, 2018, and the actions at issue are the defendants’ actions at Kings Bay on that night.”

Like Magistrate Judge Benjamin Cheesbro, Wood acknowledges the beliefs expressed by the defendants are sincerely held. The question is the burden on expressing it. Multiple defendants testified over the course of the case that they needed to break into the base and conduct a symbolic denuclearization — what the government considers vandalism and property damage — to properly exercise their beliefs.

Wood also explains that the federal laws meant to prevent the defendants’ actions, the laws under which they’re being prosecuted, the laws do present a substantial burden, establishing a prima facie case for the defense under RFRA.

However, Wood goes on to describe how the federal government has a compelling interest at Kings Bay to maintain tight security over a submarine base known for being a location of nuclear weapons and other military assets.

Wood wrote, “Because non-application of the laws at issue to defendants for their actions at Kings Bay on April 4-5, 2018, would not have achieved the government’s desired goals of ensuring the safety of those on the base, the security of the assets housed there and the smooth operation of the base — and those operations elsewhere that rely on the smooth operations of the base — the government has met its burden of showing that the least-restrictive means of furthering its compelling interests in these circumstances is the application of the laws at issue to defendants for their actions….”

With denying of the motions to dismiss, the case now continues toward trial, which Tuesday was set for Oct. 21 at 9 a.m.


from National Catholic Reporter

Judge denies nuclear protestors’ religious freedom defense