Mark Colville’s RFRA Oral Argument

Statement by Mark Colville to The Federal Court, Southern District of Georgia

Brunswick, Georgia, August 7, 2019

Good morning Judge Wood. My name is Mark Colville, and I’m pleased to meet you. I won’t bore you with the boring details of my boring life—much of that is already part of the court record, which incidentally might make for some good bedtime reading if you’re ever having trouble falling asleep.

I will however call your attention to the presence of my wife, Luz Catarineau, and our youngest son Isaiah, who have driven all the way down from Connecticut to be here in the courtroom today. By the way, in the event that this whole trial thing ends up crashing and burning for me, Luz would like to speak to you about getting me assigned to the federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut, which is about an hour’s drive from our home.

Okay, so with that, I will preface what remains of these comments by saying that I appear before you today not fully prepared, which is why I’ve chosen to read a written statement rather than risk losing focus in a monologue. The obstacles to my preparation are twofold:

First, the Glynn County Detention Center—my home for the past sixteen months—does not afford pro-se defendants like me with anything resembling the resources necessary to prepare an adequate defense. There is no computer access, no e-mail or internet, no access to a library, and only limited and sporadic access to a law library.

Actually, judging from the email communications that my stand-by counsel received from your office, it’s not clear to me that your are aware that I have no access to email. The only regular means of communication that I have with counsel or co-defendants is through 3×5 inch postcard and phone calls that are expensive, surveilled and recorded.

Secondly, for over 9 months now this court has denied me the opportunity to meet with my co-defendants and their lawyers to prepare for court appearances or to discuss written submissions to the court. We are facing serious criminal charges; we are being tried together; it is essential that we develop a unified and coherent strategy. I’d be curious to know whether the court has any plans in the immediate future to remedy either of these obstacles, and if not, how I am to be expected to adequately defend myself. Incidentally, I also have yet to receive any written responses to the motions we filed prior to these present proceedings. These are evidently being sent to my home in New Haven, and of course the jail won’t allow Luz to forward them to me. With those complaints lodged, I will now briefly address the matters at hand.

The government’s behavior toward me—and to this point, the courts countenance of that behavior—has put me between a rock and a hard place. The rock is my personal faith in Jesus Christ, lived conscientiously throughout my entire adult life as a member and lay leader of the Roman Catholic Church. The hard place is the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base, home to the most destructive, poisonous and indiscriminately murderous weapons ever known to human civilization. These are weapons which represent in absolute terms the biblical definition of idols, or as the psalmist so presciently named them, Gods of Metal. The presence of these weapons in that place, according to the tenets of my faint, convicts me personally of sin. The expressed purpose of their existence—namely, to defend my life and property against my “enemies”–is blasphemous, and it requires that I take personal responsibility for dismantling them. For a Catholic, the knowledge of personal sin leaves the believer with two choices: substantive acts of contrition and repentance, or a willful break in one’s relationship with God.

As a matter of fact, nothing I’ve just said is even in dispute here today. Both the government and magistrate Judge Cheesbro have stipulated that these beliefs of mine, of ours, are sincerely held, that they are in accord with the teachings of my Church, and that they were the motivating force behind all of our actions at Kings Bay on April 4-5, 2018. The Report and Recommendation (R&R) from Judge Cheesbro further acknowledges that our actions were both prophetic and sacramental, which to me is a singularly astounding and hopeful statement, coming from a federal court. Actually, if I’d stopped reading the R&R before getting to its conclusion, I might’ve even thought that this was the Catholic Peace Fellowship announcing us as the recipients of their annual award! Unfortunately, it is that troublesome conclusion, with its frequent vacations from fact and law, that will leave my co-defendants and I frightfully under-served by justice, should it be allowed to stand.

Since it is the elements of substantial burden and least-restrictive means that are the real sticking point here, I will close my remarks with an observation of two on those points from where I sit.

Presuming, as I do, that the government, the police and the courts of this nation have not yet fully capitulated to the fascist mood that has swept our land—a mood as we all know, that today is centrally sourced in the White House—it is hard to conceptualize—and I’ve tried—the elements of a more restrictive means, within the law, of preventing me from practicing my sincerely-held Catholic faith, than that which has been imposed on me here in Georgia. To wit:

  • Charging me with three felonies and a misdemeanor.
  • Imposing exorbitant bail and home confinement restrictions on defendants whom both the government and this court have acknowledged to be nonviolent people of faith and conscience who pose no risk of flight.
  • Preemptively punishing me for sixteen months, under maximum security conditions, in a jail that frankly—and this is particularly relevant to these proceedings—operates with a pronounced if unspoken anti-Catholic bias. While in federal custody here, I have been essentially forbidden to practice my faith a a Roman Catholic for almost a year and a half now—not only with regard to sacramental and prophetic action on behalf of peace and nuclear disarmament, but even with regard to the most basic requirement of Catholic practice—that being regular participation in the Catholic mass. Meanwhile on my cell-block, the evangelicals conduct a communal worship service every Sunday, right in my living space.

Despite being given numerous opportunities, the government has yet to produce any evidence that it ever considered any less-restrictive means of protecting its so-called “compelling interest,” while its own witnesses indicated that there were/are several such means available. The question this begs, then, is: did the government consider something more restrictive, and then talk themselves down? To this?? What exactly could that have been? Is there still some federal statute on the books that allows for a public flogging?

The government’s behavior towards me clearly indicates a politically-motivated prosecution of a faith-based action, and I, for one, can’t even hypothesize a situation that would better fit the description of what the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was intended to address.

If the government—or the court, for that matter—cannot fee itself enough from these political pressures to do what the law and the evidence clearly indicate to be the right thing—namely, to drop these charges—then at the very least, it can only serve the interest of justice to let this argument be put before a jury as part of our defense.


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