Judge hears testimony; will rule later this year
By Matt Lakin
Friday, March 4, 2011 Knoxville News
Photo by Paul Efird
Anti-nuclear weapons activist Sister Mary Dennis Lentsch gets a hug Friday from supporter Todd Shelton during a recess in a motions hearing at the Howard H. Baker Jr. United States Courthouse. Lentsch and 12 others are charged with trespassing at Y-12.
The signs said to stop, but Sister Mary Dennis Lentsch's heart told her to go.
"The only obligation I felt was the obligation to be faithful to my conscience," she testified Friday in U.S. District Court. "It was a call in my heart that I had to answer. I must honor and trespass boundaries as love and justice demand."
Lentsch, a 74-year-old Catholic nun from Washburn, and a dozen other anti-nuclear protesters argue that call and international law trump federal trespassing statutes at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge. U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Guyton will decide later this year whether they can argue that defense at their trial.
The 13 protesters admit they willingly crossed the blue line onto federal property at Y-12 during a protest July 5. They face federal misdemeanor charges of trespassing, with a trial set for May.
Their lawyers want to put U.S. nuclear policy on trial instead, arguing weapons production at Y-12 violates international humanitarian standards. Charles Moxley, a professor at Fordham School of Law in New York, took the stand at Friday's hearing to back up their argument.
The International Court of Justice in Europe has called the use of nuclear weapons a violation of the age-old laws of war because of the weapons' indiscriminate destructive power and the uncontrollable nature of resulting radiation, Moxley said.
"The policy of (nuclear) deterrence in the U.S. is that we have these weapons, and we have the right to use them," Moxley testified. "If it's unlawful to do something, it's unlawful to threaten to do something."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Theodore called those claims irrelevant. He said the case deals only with whether the protesters knowingly crossed the federal boundary.
"Did you really think you could stop nuclear production by your trespassing?" he asked Lentsch.
"I don't think you live in hope," the nun said. "I live in hope."
Guyton took the case under advisement and said he'll issue a written ruling later.
Matt Lakin may be reached at 865-342-6306.