Sight Magazine – Essay: Nuns Against Nuclear Weapons – Plowshares protesters have fought for disarmament for over 40 years, going to prison for peace


In July 2012, Sister Megan Rice, an 82-year-old Catholic nun, and two men walked past several broken security cameras and into the heart of a high-security nuclear complex. Y-12 in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was the birthplace of the atomic bomb and now stores enriched uranium for nuclear warheads. Although thanked by Congress for exposing the contractors’ surprisingly lax security, the three men were also convicted and served two years in prison.

Rice, who died in October 2021, was part of a tradition of protest called Plowshares. Since 1980, there have been over 100 Plowshares actions in the US, UK and Europe. The name comes from the books of Isaiah and Micah in the Bible: “They will turn their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning buckets: nation will not lift sword against nation, and they will no longer learn. the war. Isaiah and Micah are accepted as scripture by Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

In this Aug. 9, 2012, file photo, Sister Megan Rice, center, and Michael Walli, in the background, are greeted by supporters as they arrive for a federal court appearance in Knoxville, Tennessee, after being accused of sabotaging a complex government nuclear power plant. Rice, who served two years in prison and was released when her original conviction was overturned by a federal appeals court, died of congestive heart failure on October 10 at the Holy Child Center in Rosemont, Pennsylvania. She was 91 years old. PHOTO: Michael Patrick / Knoxville News Sentinel via AP / File photo.

As a historian studying religious calls for nuclear disarmament, I focus on the nuns at the forefront of this important movement. My next book, Transform now, shows how they use existing international law and their own creative hearing strategies to guide U.S. courts and even Congress to include pacifist principles in court records and Congressional documents.

Civil resistance, not disobedience
Rice’s journey with Plowshares began when she retired after four decades of teaching science and math at schools founded in Nigeria by her religious order, the Society of the Holy Child Jesus. At Jonah House in Baltimore, a faith-based peace activist community, she met Sister Anne Montgomery, a nun of the Society of the Sacred Heart and the daughter of a prominent WWII naval commander. Montgomery became Rice’s Plowshares mentor.

“One of Plowshares’ most effective strategies is to represent themselves in court, known as pro se, which in Latin means“ for oneself. ”It allows protesters, including these nuns, to discuss the law. humanitarian, defense of necessity – which means you broke a little law to stop a big crime – and the 1996 US War Crimes Act. “

Montgomery helped develop legal strategies for Plowshares, such as the Attempt to Test Nuclear Weapons. This means explaining to juries that nuclear weapons have been internationally illegal since the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and even its predecessor of 1968 – and also how their use violates the Geneva Conventions and other binding treaties.

During their testimony, these nuns do not describe their actions as “civil disobedience” because it would mean that they did something illegal. Instead, they prefer “civil resistance,” which Montgomery called “divine obedience” to higher principles of peace.

One of the most effective strategies of Plowshares is to represent themselves in court, known as pro se, which in Latin means “for oneself”. Great Crime Arrest Act – and the US War Crimes Act of 1996. Lawyers cannot discuss these matters because judges limit cases to mere trespassing or property damage. Using the pro se, activists express themselves freely in a way that could result in a professional reprimand from a real lawyer. Lawyers often, however, stand there as advisers.



Sabotage fees
Rice was not the first nun to be sentenced for sabotage. Ten years earlier, Dominican sister Ardeth Platte, who inspired the character of the nun in the popular Netflix prison series Orange is the new black, went to jail in Danbury, Connecticut, on the same charge. Platte (pronounced Platty) spent his retirement years participating in plowshares and other protests at weapon sites.

In 2002, along with other Dominican sisters, Sister Carol Gilbert and Sister Jackie Hudson, Platte drilled an intercontinental ballistic missile facility in Colorado. The three shed blood in the shape of a cross to remember the victims of the war. Then they hit the blast cover with a household hammer. Small hammers do not significantly damage such massive weapons. All three have been accused of preventing the United States from attacking enemies or defending itself, which is the definition of sabotage.

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Like Rice’s group and many other Plowshares activists, the three nuns carried rosaries, Bibles, and other items in small black bags. Explosives experts, however, thought they might have bombs. Attack helicopters arrived as they sang and prayed. Police pointed semi-automatic rifles at them and closed a nearby highway. This was an unusual reaction, as Plowshares protesters are typically caught and arrested with much less fanfare, and perhaps that is why prosecutors secured a sabotage conviction.

Rice’s prosecutors brought up Platte’s case during her trial, in which she and her companions were also found guilty of sabotage. However, two years later, an appeals court overturned it, warning that “no rational jury could conclude” that they had in fact damaged national defense.

Leadership for prison justice
Rice, Montgomery, Platte, Gilbert and Hudson have all shown exceptional leadership in prison. Since their first sentences were handed down in the 1980s, they have used their time in prison to lead prayer groups, teach prisoners to read, and help them earn high school diplomas. They stand up for poor women, many of color, who often receive unfairly harsh sentences for prostitution and non-violent drug offenses committed because of poverty.

Rice identified with the poor. She called her fellow inmates and asked to stay with them. His ultimate act of leadership would ideally have been to die serving them. As she said in 2015, “God damn it, what better way than to die in prison for the anti-nuclear cause?

The conversation

Carole Sargent is a historian of literature at Georgetown University. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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