American Friends Service Committee
Sara Burke, Managing Editor
Sam Diener, Editor
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
2161 Massachusetts Ave.
Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.
Judge Recognizes Free Speech Rights
In order to protest the US bombing of Baghdad, approximately 110 people participated in a worship service in Springfield, MA on April 9, 2003. At the close of worship, fourteen community members moved to block the front entrance of the Springfield Federal Building by kneeling in prayer and song.
The protesters didn’t quite make it to the entrance, since a large number of federal agents and city police officers blocked the entrance themselves by establishing a line ten feet in front of the doors. After 45 minutes, arresting authorities demanded that the vigilers disperse. When they refused, all fourteen were arrested.
In the months between the arrest and the October trial, three defendants decided
to plead guilty. The Springfield Federal 11 declared publicly that they would
accept nothing short of a full acquittal and that they were prepared to go
to jail if necessary.
After a two-day trial, Norris, during his closing argument, pointed to the eleven defendants and urged the judge to realize that, "this is what democracy looks like." After the Springfield District Attorney’s closing arguments, Judge Frederic Rutberg asked the prosecutor, "When do citizens become trespassers on federal property, which constitutionally they own?" Dissatisfied with the reply, Rutberg acquitted all eleven defendants, citing Perry Ed. Assn. v. Perry Local Educators’ Assn., 460 U.S. 37 (1983) (http://laws.findlaw.com/us/460/37.html).
In Perry, the Supreme Court ruled that, "The State may also enforce regulations of the time, place, and manner of expression which are content-neutral, are narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest, and leave open ample alternative channels of communication."
Judge Rutberg explained in court that, applying Perry, if the police had found that the protesters were blocking the use of the Federal Building, it would have been legal to order the demonstrators to move back away from the entrance. However, in this case, the fact that the police order was to disperse illustrated that the state had -neither narrowly tailored its speech restriction nor left open alternative channels of communication. Thus, Judge Rutberg ruled that the District Attorney had not proven the demonstrators’ actions to be worthy of criminal prosecution.
In total, more than eighty western Massachusetts community members risked arrest during the 2003 protest of war with Iraq. The Federal 11 were the first to go to trial. Judge Rutberg declined post-trial comment. After the victory, Norris remarked that the verdict rendered in Comerford et al. versus The Commonwealth of Massachusetts sets an important precedent for local and national trials yet to come. For more information, see www.westernMassAFSC.org.