Federal prosecutors filed a brief Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Brunswick 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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