It’s hard to live in Oak Ridge, Tenn., without learning a thing or two about civil disobedience, especially demonstrations linked to nuclear weapons. No matter what goes on inside the Oak Ridge National Laboratory — in terms of energy, medicine, the digital future, etc. — this top-secret research facility will always be known for its role in America’s history of atomic bombs and beyond.
This leads to protests. Some of them cross the line into civil disobedience, which raises interesting historical, legal and even theological questions. Hold that thought, because we will come back to it.
There is a very similar story unfolding elsewhere in the Bible Belt, as seen in a recent report — “Judge denies nuclear protesters’ religious freedom defense” — from Religion News Service. Here is the overture:
(RNS) — A federal judge has denied a request by a group of Catholic peace activists to dismiss charges against them for breaking into a nuclear submarine base in Kings Bay, Georgia, last year to protest nuclear weapons.
The seven activists, individually and through their lawyers, used a novel defense, citing the Religion Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 federal law that says the government may not burden the faith practices of a person with sincerely held religious beliefs.
But Judge Lisa Godbey Wood, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, denied that defense and scheduled a jury trial for Oct. 21.
The activists, known as the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, face up to 25 years in prison each for trespassing on the U.S. Navy base, which houses six Trident submarines designed to carry nearly 200 nuclear warheads apiece. The seven, mostly middle-aged or elderly, will each stand trial on three felonies and one misdemeanor: destruction of property on a naval installation, depredation of government property, trespass and conspiracy.
Now, there are all kinds of questions I’d like to ask at this point.
First of all, I assume we are talking about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as opposed to the “Religion” Freedom Restoration Act that is mentioned here. RNS needs to make a correction.
But it would appear that the basic idea is that the protestors had a right to violate the law as an act of religious conscience. It would be interesting to know more the specifics of their claims.