Hello Judge Wood, good to finally meet you. I have heard much about you, your intellect and your love of the law.
I am grateful for all public servants who offer their labor in the pursuit of Justice. Justice, for me, to quote Dr. Cornell West, is “what love looks like in public”. A growing refrain of mine is “Justice is about well being”, well being for all people and all creation, no exceptions.
Speaking for myself, it can be a little scary and intimidating to speak in court as a non-professional, and it can be tempting to want things to go “well” and without “mistakes”, but I have been encouraged to seek God’s will and leave the coat of anxiety behind. I want to be invitational in the practice of testifying, and in this case, arguing ones case, as a good practice, not just for Professionals or for those with eloquent or gifted tongues, but for all of us who might feel moved by the spirit of Truth, Love and Justice.
RFRA has been a step forward in protecting Religious Freedom in this country, in particular, in protecting the PRACTICE of people’s firmly held religious beliefs. As I understand it, because RFRA is now the law of the land, the government must apply strict scrutiny before denying people the practice of their firmly held religious beliefs. In our case, as soon as the government realized that the 7 of us Kings Bay Plowshares were religiously motivated and that our actions at Kings Bay were a practice of our religion, it was/ is obligated to identify it’s compelling and legitimate interests. Once it did that, it was/is required to determine whether there is any room for exceptions that would allow for our religious exercise. If they decide, NO exceptions. then the government must use the LEAST RESTRICTIVE MEANS NECESSARY in protecting and furthering it’s compelling interests.
We stand before you today Judge Wood, as 7 Catholics, religious practitioners of non-violent Symbolic Disarmament, asking you to dismiss the 3 felonies and 1 misdemeanor that we have been charged with by the government, charges that substantially burden the PRACTICE of our sincerely held religious beliefs. The Sacramental practice that we undertook at Kings Bay on April 4/5th , of non-violently symbolically disarming the Trident Weapons System, we have demonstrated and the evidence shows, that we could NOT undertake our practice in any other place or in any other way. (We needed physical proximity to the Trident, the scene of the sin, the scene of the crime) and ( asking permission would have been futile) Furthermore, the evidence shows that the government’s criminalization of our RELIGIOUS practice, not only substantially burdens our religious practice now, but it deters any future practice of our religious beliefs. RFRA, the law of the land, says it is illegal for the government to Deter the practice of my religion.
At this point, I would like to take a moment to look at the word religion. I learned that it has its roots in the word re-ligament.
I translate that as re align, or to be in right relationship. Before I finish my time, I would like to share a few paragraphs from my affidavit and my testimony from the evidentiary hearing. All of my testimony was about religion, was about seeking right relationship. I will begin with a passage I quoted from Mark’s gospel chapter 12. It was the Sunday Mass reading on November 9, 1958, the day that I was born. In many ways it has been a rudder in my faith journey, one that has informed my religious beliefs, choices and practices.
“Hear O Israel the Lord our God is Lord Alone! You shall love the Lord God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength, and ……. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater that these” MK 12:29
Nuclear Weapons eviscerate and violate the possibilities of loving God and neighbor. We cannot build, posses, maintain and threaten the use of Nuclear Weapons AND love God, as if God were Lord alone. Loving God requires trusting God, and reverencing the sacredness of all God’s creation. Nuclear weapons have become and idol, replacing trust and love of God with the willingness to threaten and destroy all of God’s creation in the illusory pursuit of maintaining power and control.
This “greatest commandment” from Mark’s Gospel that links love of God with love of neighbor, gets more specific in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 23, when Jesus says” whatsoever you do to the least, you do to me”.
With that in mind, the statement that we brought with us to Kings Bay on April 4th/5th 2018 says “Nuclear Weapons kill every day by their mere existence. Their production requires mining, refining, testing and dumping of radioactive material, which poisons sacred Earth and Water, all on Indigenous land. We see the billions of dollars it takes to build and maintain the Trident system as stolen resources, which are desperately needed for human needs. We see nuclear weapons as a cocked gun, the biggest gun, used 24/7 to ENFORCE the many layers of state-sponsored violence and deadly force required to maintain white supremacy, global capitalism and global domination”.
I see our/my action, as inspired by Jesus and the Gospels, a loving response to this systemic harm of the “least’, that is being done in my name, an act seeking to heal and find right relationship with God and neighbor.
Thanks to the prophet Isaiah for the invitation…
To go up to the mountain of the Lord, to be taught in God’s ways…
To hammer swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.
To train for war no more, that we may walk in the light of the Lord.