News Release

Barrett and Injustice: Jesuit Priest Being Sentenced for Nuclear Weapons Protest


The New York Times reports in “Ardeth Platte, Dominican Nun and Antinuclear Activist, Dies at 84” that “Sister Ardeth spent years behind bars for her beliefs and was the inspiration for a character on the Netflix hit ‘Orange Is the New Black.'”

On Thursday and Friday, sentencing will take place for Fr. Steven Kelly, a Jesuit priest, and his co-defendant Patrick O’Neill, who co-founded a Catholic Worker house in Garner, North Carolina. Kelly has been in jail for the last two and a half years. They are part of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, Catholic Worker activists who entered the largest U.S. nuclear weapons facility in Georgia on April 4, 2018, exactly 50 years after Martin Luther King’s assasination. See for background and @kingsbayplow7 for up-to-date information, including how to listen to the sentencing.

Plowshares activists follow the biblical edict to “beat swords into plowshares.” (See O’Neill’s oral arguments on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, an act championed by William Barr and Mike Pence — and mentioned by Ted Cruz during Barrett’s hearings — but prohibited by the court in this case.)

Magno is with Jonah House, an activist spiritual community in Baltimore, where many of the 100 Plowshares actions originated. It was founded by the late Philip Barrigan and Liz McAlister (see below) where Sister Ardeth lived for many years. He is currently in Brunswick, Georgia where the sentencing for Fr. Kelly and O’Neill will take place.

He said today: “It is a shame that Amy Coney Barrett didn’t pursue college or law school locally in her native New Orleans. If she had, she might have met and been mentored by a great lawyer, Bill Quigley, who is also a Catholic driven by his faith. He understands that social justice needs to be an intrinsic component of law in order to make justice a widely available resource for poor and marginalized constituencies in U.S society.

“Quigley has trained and mentored a host of advocacy-focused attorneys over the years from his place as professor at Loyola University in New Orleans, defended peace activists as part of the SOA Watch legal collective for over 30 years and the faith-based disarmament activists of the Plowshares movement. Notably he won an appeal for the three Transform Now Plowshares activists convicted in Tennessee after gaining entry to the Oak Ridge nuclear weapons complex in July of 2012. Their sabotage conviction was overturned and they were released from prison after serving two years apiece of much longer sentences imposed after their trial in Knoxville in the Spring of 2013. This week two other clients of his will face sentencing in Brunswick Georgia for their Kings Bay Plowshares incursion onto a Trident submarine base in April of 2018.”

Instead, said Magno, Barrett “has advanced professionally under the aegis of the Federalist Society and the influence of figures such as the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. With her opening remarks, ‘courts are not designed to solve every problem or right every wrong in our public life,’ she embraces the notion of judicial indifference to social injustice and a judiciary that makes a virtue of that helplessness.

“A saying of medieval Catholic philosopher Thomas Aquinas is worth remembering. He said: ‘Law, when it ceases to be justice, ceases even to be law.'”

Liz Mcalister, who is also one of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, and was represented by Quigley, said: “This isn’t the first time that Steve Kelly faces the court of law — not the court of justice. I don’t think he even keeps count of how many times he’s stood before courts, or how long he has spent in jails and prisons. He enters all those spaces with grace and peace, knowing that the work that he can do there is welcome and needed and a gift to all of us. I trust that he will put any additional time in prison to good use, and that it will be a time of deep prayer, oriented toward transforming our world into a more just and peaceful place. We are grateful for his witness and I am called to a deeper commitment to the work for peace and justice by my brother Steve Kelly.”