Activists Claim Religious Freedom In Defense Of Vandalism At Nuclear Submarine Base

Bullet Points
The Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Pittsburgh (SSN 720) arrives at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay.
U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Bradley J. Gee

Federal prosecutors filed a brief Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Brunswick, Georgia, addressing and suggesting the court reject the Kings Bay Plowshares’ claims that their alleged break-in and vandalism of Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay was covered as a protected religious observance under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.


  • The two standards the federal government needs to meet under RFRA are that there’s a “compelling governmental interest” for potentially violating someone’s sincerely held beliefs, and that the government should use “the least restrictive means” in fulfilling that interest.
  • One of the cases the prosecution sites in a 2016 matter out of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in which the appellate court upheld the convictions of a Hawaii couple that, while authorized as the Hawaii Cannabis Ministry to provide marijuana to its adherents, the ministry was not allowed to divert that weed to non-affiliated recreational users.
  • “The government disputes that defendants’ professed beliefs regarding ‘symbolic denuclearization’ are actually religious in nature,” according to the brief. “Even assuming defendants have made such a showing, the government could not achieve its compelling interest in protecting Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, a sensitive military installation, while exempting the defendants from complying with generally applicable laws against trespass and destruction of property.
  • “Prosecuting trespassers who enter the base for an unlawful purpose is the least restrictive means for the government to protect that interest.”
  • Bill Quigley — an attorney for the defense and law professor at Loyola University New Orleans — asserted during the Aug. 2 hearing that the government could have seen fit to punish the Plowshares defendants by a civil penalty or pretrial diversion, which would be considered lesser than the criminal charges they face.

The seven defendants are all charged with conspiracy, destruction of property on a naval installation, depredation of government property and trespassing. They are accused of cutting away a fence at Kings Bay, going onto the grounds, vandalizing and going to the administration building, the D5 Missile monument installation and nuclear weapons storage bunkers.

Through a news release and in their filings, the defendants essentially admit to committing the acts accused, but assert those acts were not illegal under the circumstances.

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©2018 The Brunswick News (Brunswick, Ga.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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