"Sailor-mongering" and free speech

In an unbelievable LA Times article, Jonathan Turley revisits the Greenpeace lawsuit I mentioned awhile ago: John Ashcroft has dug up an obscure, rarely used 1872 law prohibiting "sailor-mongering"--luring sailors off their ships with booze or hookers--to prosecute a peaceful protest off the coast of Florida (two activists boarded a boat to draw attention to Bush's severe mahogany harvesting policies). If his prosecution is successful, Greenpeace could lose its tax-exempt status and be forced to report its every actions to the government. Writes Turley:
Such a prospect must secretly delight many in the administration who see the group as an ever-present irritant. After all, it was Greenpeace that held the first demonstration at the president's ranch after his inauguration, causing a stir when activists unfurled a banner reading "Bush: the Toxic Texan. Don't Mess With the Earth."

Since that time, Greenpeace has waged a continual campaign against Bush's environmental record. Ashcroft's jihad against free speech, however, is not limited to environmentalists. Consider the case of three Dominican nuns. Last year, Sister Ardeth Platte, 66, Sister Jackie Hudson, 68, and Sister Carol Gilbert, 55, participated in a peaceful demonstration for nuclear disarmament.

As part of the protest, the three nuns cut through a chain-link fence around a Minuteman III missile silo. There is only a light fence because the missile is protected by a 110-ton concrete cap that is designed to withstand a nuclear explosion. The nuns proceeded to paint crosses on the cap and symbolically hit it with hammers. They then knelt, prayed, sang religious songs and waited for arrest. The most the government could allege in terms of damage was $3,000.

However, the Ashcroft Justice Department wanted more than compensation and a common misdemeanor. It charged the nuns with obstructing national defense, which subjected each to a potential 30-year prison term. When the government pushed the court to impose sentences of as much as eight years, the judge refused. However, the judge found, as alleged by the government, that the three nuns had put military personnel "in harm's way." Accordingly, he imposed on them sentences ranging from 2 1/2 years to 3 1/2 years.


It is also notable that other organizations have not faced such attacks. For example, in this same judicial district in Florida, the Cuban American group Democracy Movement organized a protest in which members sailed into a government-designated security zone. Although the members were charged, the organization was not. Similarly, other groups viewed favorably by the administration — such as anti-abortion groups — have not been subject to criminal indictments of their organizations for such protests.

The extraordinary effort made to find and use this obscure law strongly suggests a campaign of selective prosecution — the greatest scourge of the 1st Amendment.
Read the full article.

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