On Tuesday, Feb. 18, Sister Megan Rice was sentenced to 35 months in prison for her dramatic break-in into the nuclear facility at Oak Ridge, Tenn., as well as her vandalism within the most secure part of the facility. The break-in was to protest nuclear weapons, which she and her compatriots view as immoral and against international law. Her story has blown up Twitter and other sites with her pleas to the judge for no leniency. She views her journey as a chance to minister to those who are behind bars. And that desire to make the best of a bad situation is admirable.
But I would like to speak to those people who may consider this radical nun as a martyr, or a person akin to Martin Luther King, Jr., who was imprisoned by an unjust system for breaking an unjust law in protest. This woman, and her two compatriots, are not martyrs, nor is the direct system by which they are being imprisoned unjust. They broke multiple laws, and committed multiple offenses, such as burglary, vandalism, and sabotage. These are laws which protect individuals from crimes against themselves, and obedience of them requires no violation of any moral code. They tried to use international law and moral law as a reason to break the moral domestic laws of the United States. And there are individuals who would like to call their actions and good intentions “heroic”, or “standing up for their beliefs.” I beg to differ. This woman is a criminal, and she should be treated as such.
There are better examples of martyrdom and heroism in the name of peace or protesting immorality. To break a law which denies a human being basic dignity, or rights, such as were done during the Civil Rights Movement of the ’60s, is an example of civil disobedience, and can be justified by moral law. A lesser known example in this day and age is the example of Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher, who refused to take an oath proclaiming their monarch and close personal friend, King Henry VIII, the head of the Church in England. They believed that title could only belong to the Pope, and to proclaim otherwise would be against their morality. Their silence, and their refusal to violate their own moral code, resulted in their executions for treason, even though they technically never violated a law of England. Even if an individual doesn’t subscribe to Christianity or Catholicism, their unwillingness to sacrifice for their beliefs, while still remaining within the boundaries of the law, must be admired.
So to those who wish to proclaim Megan Rice a “hero” for her break-in to the nuclear facility, I beg you to reconsider what you define as a “hero.” This woman is a criminal, plain and simple. She’s going to prison because she broke the law, no matter what her intentions were.