Carmen Trotta’s RFRA Oral Arguments

Judge Wood, good morning. It is good, and a bit intimidating, to finally get to meet you. We’ve heard from various people that you are, ‘the smartest person I’ve ever met,’ or ‘She has a photographic memory,’ and ‘She runs a tight ship.’ Otherwise, one very becoming item we heard about you is that you went before the Daughters of the American Revolution and explained to them that the First Amendment to the Constitution could rightly be used to justify the burning of an American Flag. You maintained that while it was a ‘despicable act,’ in certain instances it could be judged a matter of free expression. I myself would never think to burn the flag, but I can certainly understand the exasperation of those appalled by the endless wars and war crimes committed by – ‘the indispensible nation’ – our own country, which the great Georgian, the Rev. Martin Luther King referred to as ‘the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”

But we are here to talk about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Many of our friends understood this to be a very conservative piece of legislation, purportedly created by Christian evangelicals of the so called ‘prosperity Gospel’ and they were troubled by our use of it. We however thought that it might instead be very good law, causing judges and prosecutors to discern a little more deeply regarding the lives of the defendants that come before them, maintaining that they were acting on sincerely held religious beliefs. To come to know them more intimately, to understand the unique context of their actions may transform what might otherwise appear to be a straightforward and unacceptable violation of the law, into a revelation of a deeper reality.


In my case, this was an attempt — as a direct extension of my sincerely held religious beliefs  — to initiate a 21st century version of the biblical prophecy – repeated almost verbatim in the books of Isaiah and Micah – that a time would come when humanity would recognize the wisdom of the Divine and seek to be instructed in it. They would go to ha Shem, and ha Shem would judge between many peoples, and impose terms on distant and powerful nations. And they would beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, nations would no longer raise the sword against one another, neither would they study war any more.

Study war no more! Never has the 2000 year old slogan been more urgent! Study war no more! This would mark the end of what the Supreme Commander of all Allied Forces of WWII and later President of the United States, Dwight David Eisenhower, called an evil spiritual force in his Farewell Address: That is the military industrial complex. Right now, according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, we are closer to a nuclear war than ever before.

So the Isaian prophecy is not the only reason we acted at he Kings Bay Naval Base. Our sincerely held religious beliefs are also motivated by the teachings of the modern Catholic Church. Particularly its response to the two world wars during the first half of the 20th century. During the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church recognized the portent of those wars. The Church’s analysis is meticulously rational, calling for stronger international authorities to eliminate weapons of mass destruction. It is also boldly passionate calling for the ‘unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation’ of weapons of mass destruction and the supreme commendation for those who ‘fearlessly and openly resist’ their use.

I would share with you some quotes I cited in my written response to the R&R from Guadium et spes, one of the Vatican Councils promulgated documents.

In our generation, when men continue to be afflicted by hardships and anxieties arising from the ravishes of war, or the threat of it, the whole human family faces an hour of supreme crisis in its advance toward maturity.

  • Indeed, now that every kind of weapon produced by modern science is used in war, the fierce character of warfare threatens to lead the combatants to a savagery far surpassing that of the past.
  • Orders commanding such actions are criminal, and blind obedience cannot excuse those who yield to them. The most infamous among these are actions designed for the methodical extermination of an entire people, nation or ethnic minority. Such actions must be vehemently condemned as horrendous crimes. The courage of those who fearlessly and openly resist those who issue such commands merits supreme commendation.
  • The horror and perversity of war is immensely magnified by the addition of scientific weapons. Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities, of their extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and Man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.
  • Therefore, we say it again: the arms race is an utterly treacherous trap for humanity, one which ensnares the poor to an intolerable degree. It is much to be feared that if this race persists, it will eventually spawn all the lethal ruin whose path it is now making ready. Warned by the calamities which the human race has made possible, let us make use of this interlude granted us from above and for which we are thankful to become more conscious of our own responsibility and to find means for resolving our disputes in a manner more worthy of the human.
  • Divine Providence urgently demands of us that we free ourselves from the age old slavery of war. If we refuse to make this effort, we do not know where we will be led by the evil road we have set upon.

So, for whatever it’s worth, I am deeply grateful for these words. They speak to my heart; they solidify my conscience. But what do they mean before this court and the evil road we have set upon.

For years I remember hearing that the Catholic Church wanted global governance. But I’d never heard a word about this in any homily or Catholic journal.

And only recently have I come to understand the criticism. Curiously, it seems imbedded in the Swords into Plowshares prophecy: “Setting terms with powerful and distant Nations!” A-ha. What the church is calling for is a focus upon and enhancement of International Law. Not global governance so much as greater international cooperation and cohesion.

So, our somewhat esoteric, theatrical, symbolic, prophetic, sacramental action, is a heartfelt outcry against the so called indispensible nations abandonment of International Law. For the past 40 years the recalcitrance of the courts regarding international law – in apparent violation of Article 6 of the US Constitution –has selectively and very effectively eviserated large swaths of International  and treaty law.

As we freely admit, we entered the base with hammers, bolt cutters, containers of human blood, banners, Daniel Ellesberg’s book the Doomsday Machine. But most importantly we brought with us an indictment of the US President and the base commander. It was we who were upholding the law. Nuclear weapons are, by a simple derivation of International Law illegal. They are disproportionate, indiscriminate, toxic and uncontrollable in space and time. Every nuclear weapon is a prefabricated war crime.

We have been charged with conspiracy, and again we admit as much. To conspire is to ‘breathe together.’ Breathe, biblically, is Spirit. We share the Holy Spirit together.  But ours was by no means a criminal conspiracy. No, the criminal conspiracy goes on beyond the fence line at Kings Bay Naval Station, and exposing that is what cutting the fence line was for.

Interestingly, the prosecutions argument for their compelling interest is three fold. Protection for the people on the base; the damage of Naval property and unauthorized entry. Obviously, from the testimony of Officer Basset, at no point was anyone on the base threatened by the 7 actors in any way. This has been true for over 100 plowshares actions over the past four decades.

However, all of the lives of those on, and surrounding, the Kings Bay Naval Base are subject to an imminent and lethal threat. In the event of an increasingly likely nuclear exchange between the US and Russia that base will undoubtedly be targeted, and the decimation of the site will be vastly more grave than the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.This should be the true “compelling interest” of this court: to save God’s earth and its inhabitants from nuclear incineration.

As regards the damage of property, all of the property of the Naval Base are essentially elements of the criminal conspiracy. They are not, properly speaking, ‘property.’ According to St. Thomas Aquinas, “Property is proper to Humans.” But weapons of mass destruction are proper to nothing, save Aucshwitz and its ilk.

Finally, regarding the unauthorized entry, it was practical; essential to the exposure of the crime. What might rightly trouble us all, is how easy the entry an exploration was.

Perhaps most importantly, what is unspoken, the elephant in the room so to speak, is the prosecutions choice to not mention the real reason that it has sought to charge us with 3 felonies, never having thought to abide by their obligations under RFRA and thus exploring ‘the least restrictive means.’ The reason, I imagine, it that no one wants to offend the ‘principalities and powers,’ and the ruler of this world.

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