To: H. Bruce Guyton, Magistrate Judge, United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee. and President Donald Trump

Free the Oak Ridge 13

If we are to serve as an example to the rest of the world, then we must counter-balance the harshness exhibited by certain Arab regimes towards non-violent protestors. We must demonstrate that leniency is the proper approach to deal with those who protest peacefully, even when they violate the laws. Presumably, the governments of Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, and now more despicably, Syria and Libya, were acting in accordance with their own rules of law when they rounded up peaceful protestors- the protestors likely were violating laws about assembly and public criticism of the government.

The recent convictions of 12 persons for trespass at the nuclear weapons facility, Y-12 National Security Complex, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee (The United States of America vs. Jean T. Gump et al.), similarly is an example where peaceful protestors have been arrested, tried and convicted, this time for violating laws governing trespass on federal property. The difference is that this has occurred in our own democratic country. And what kind of riff-raff are these defendants? They include 4 nuns, 3 priest, 1 great grandmother, and two younger parents of small children. Several of the defendants are over 80, all have extensive histories of working with the poor and helpless, and a number were actively involved in the civil rights marches of the early 1960’s with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the freedom rides.

Whether one feels that these defendants should be reviled as willful lawbreakers or lauded as saints, what should be clear in this case is that imprisonment for such offenders will serve no useful purpose for them or for society. Clearly society would not be protected by putting them in jail and they will not be “rehabilitated” by their stay in the state’s accommodations. Some might argue that their trespass on a nuclear weapons site makes them a threat to our national security. But if our national security can be threatened by such people, then we have a much more serious problem with our national security than anyone would care to admit. If 80-something priests and nuns are a threat to our national security, maybe we need to re-evaluate what it means to be “secure.” But that is a matter for a separate discussion.

Meanwhile, we the undersigned, respectfully request that the convicted defendants be handled with the utmost leniency in this (and any future similar) case. Please do not have them serve any more time in prison or fine them. If you still feel they owe a debt to society, then, in accordance with their characters, consciences, and the needs of society, sentence them to community service.

Mr. President, if Magistrate Judge Guyton is unable to follow our request, then, it is your duty in your capacity as leader of this country, to use your authority and power, to pardon these sincere and dedicated members of our country. Nothing that was seriously wrong in this country has ever changed without the actions of people like these- from slavery, to the rights of laborers, to civil rights and an end to “separate but equal.” They, in the tradition of the Reverend Dr. King, have been willing to risk prosecution and jail, to fight against situations and actions in our country that they perceive as unjust and immoral. All of the defendants have now spent some time in jail for their arrest. No good will be served by their extended imprisonment for non-violent protest. Even if you disagree with the moral imperatives of their actions, in this time of constant arguments about the need to trim waste from government budgets, this is clearly an example where a great deal of government resources can be saved- by not wasting the excessive outlays of tax dollars from the criminal justice system to lock up defendants such as these.

In sum, please free the Oak Ridge 12 defendants.

Why is this important?

Background: These are 13 defendants, arrested on July 5, 2010, at the nuclear weapons facility, Y-12 National Security Complex, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the site for the Manhattan Project that built the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US (the only nuclear weapons to have been used since their invention). A larger protest was held outside the restricted area, but 13 protestors chose to cross into the site to stand and peacefully protest the existence of a factory for the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction on US soil. These 13 were arrested on federal charges of trespass and 12 of the 13 stood trial on May 11, 2011 for this offense (the 13th defendant will be tried separately since he was too ill to stand trial).

Defendant information: The 12 peace and anti-nuclear activists brought to trial included 4 nuns, 3 priests, three members of the Catholic Worker movement that helps the poor and homeless, and two parents of young children. In addition, several of the defendants were over 80-years-old and suffer from a variety of medical problems. Unfortunately, due to the workings of the jail system and its bureaucracy, several of those in jail awaiting sentencing have been denied medicines and/or otherwise been put at risk by failure to meet their medical needs.

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Reasons for signing

  • To paraphrase Gandhi, "God alone knows the mind of a person; and the duty of a man or a woman of God is to act as he or she is directed by his inner voice." Weren't these 13 responding to that inner voice? He alsonotes that, Jesus was the most active resister known perhaps to history. "
  • Peaceful women that stand up for what they believe in at any cost. Their are so many others doing violent acts that walk the streets daily. Something is terribly wrong here.
  • Also please consider the case of Fr. Steve Kelly SJ and Susan Crane, both imprisoned in FCIs for peaceful demonstration against nuclear facility in Maine.