Monday, July 31, 2006

Brethren receives posthumous pardon for WWI sedition charge

Brethren minister among group pardoned for (WWI) sedition convictions

Source: Church of the Brethren Newsline, July 19, 2006

A Church of the Brethren minister is among 78 people granted pardons for sedition convictions in Montana during World War I, the fruit of a Sedition Pardons Project at the University of Montana. The project was
directed by Clemens P. Work, professor of media law and director of Graduate Studies at the School of Journalism.

Sedition charges were filed against the late Church of the Brethren elder and minister John Silas (J.S.) Geiser on July 2, 1918, stemming from statements he made on Sunday, May 5, 1918, opposing the war. The statements were most probably made as part of a sermon.

The charges against Geiser were "extremely unusual," said Work. Geiser was "the only one of these cases of a minister being convicted...for what he said during a sermon."

At the time, Geiser served the Grandview congregation near Froid, Mont.
He was charged under a law passed by the Montana legislature in 1918, that "criminalized all sorts of negative speech," according to Work. In all, 79 people in Montana (one pardone
d in 1921) were convicted for criticizing the government during wartime.

Geiser was reported to the authorities for making the following statement: "All war is wrong. It is all wrong to buy liberty bonds or thrift stamps. We should remain firm; and I urge you not to buy or purchase any liberty bonds or thrift stamps.... I believe it is wrong to kill one's fellow man. One who buys Liberty Bonds and Thrift Stamps to furnish ammunition for the killing of people is as bad as it would be to kill one's self. I believe that one who buys Liberty Bonds and Thrift Stamps to aid and support the war is as bad as those who hire gunmen in the city of New York to kill their fellow man."

"It sounds like he was proclaiming the Brethren peace stance, doesn't it?" commented Ralph Clark, a current member of the congregation who is interested in church history. Clark has carried out research about Geiser on behalf of the pardons project.

Geiser moved to Froid in 1915 from Maryland, where he had started a mission that la
ter developed into Baltimore First Church of the Brethren, according to an obituary in the Church of the Brethren magazine "The Gospel Messenger" of April 27, 1935. Geiser also worked as a dentist to support his family while he served at Grandview. The congregation he served is now the Big Sky American Baptist/Brethren Church with joint Brethren and Baptist affiliation. In 1927, illness forced Geiser's return to the lower altitudes of the east coast, where he died in 1934.

The obituary makes no mention of Geiser's sedition conviction. But according to Clark's research, church minutes reveal more. In a congregational meeting on May 14, 1918, Geiser retracted part of his statement saying he had misunderstood Annual Meeting rulings on the purchase of war bonds. Clark said Geiser may have been referring to an Annual Meeting minute from the Civil War era allowing the purchase of government bonds.

The congregation voted to continue Geiser in his office and to help him seek legal assistance for the sedition charge. Then, in June 1918, Geiser handed in his resignation to the church after having declared bankruptcy.

The district elders made a ruling in July 1918 undoing Geiser's ordination, Clark said. In Sept. 1920, however, he was reinstated to full ministry. Annual Meeting frowned on declaring bankruptcy and that was probably the factor that led to the ruling undoing Geiser's ordination, Clark said.

Geiser did not do jail time for his conviction but was fined $200. "As far as I can determine they (the Geiser family) continued to live in their house and three church members signed for the $5,000 bail bond and one member paid the $200 fine," Clark said.

Of the 79 people convicted of sedition in Montana, 41 went to prison and the others were fined, Work said. The range of prison sentence was 1 to 20 years, the range actually served was 7 months to 3 years. Fines ranged from $200 to $5,000. "My position is that they shouldn'
t have served a day in prison," Work added. The sedition law was passed in an atmosphere of hysteria, because of fear of disruption of the war effort by labor radicals. "People were just hysterical at the time about the war and apprehending spies and enemies of the war effort," Work said.

Those convicted of sedition were for the most part "ordinary people who said critical or derogatory things about the government," Work said.

Most of the comments for which people were charged were made privately or were off-handed outbursts of anger or made under the influence of alcohol. In all cases, somebody listening took offense and turned the person in, Work said. Many times the person was not charged for what they said, but for who they were. For example, some of those convicted were German immigrants, Work said. "Or the person who reported them used the law as permission for revenge or payback, or exercising a grudge. We don't know how many fell into that category."

The pardons project grew out of research for Work's 2005 book, "Darkest Before Dawn: Sedition and Free Speech in the American West." The project obtained an executive pardon from Governor Schweitzer of Montana with the help of professor Jeffrey T. Renz, of the University of Montana's School of Law, and a large group of others including law and journalism students, historians, and genealogists. On May 3, more than 40 relatives of those convicted of sedition were present when the governor issued the pardon.

As for Geiser, his obituary hints that he did not let the experience affect his love for ministry or the northwest. "He loved the great northwest, but above all he loved his church and the souls of men. He wanted to see our church established in this pioneer country," the obituary said.

For more information about the Sedition Pardons Project go to

For more info on JS Geiser:

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Bureau of Indian Affairs: Federal Judge Removed After Speaking Out

Judge Who Ruled Government Accountable for Indian Trust Malfeasance Removed
FCNL Praises Judge Royce Lamberth
July 12, 2006

The U.S. Court of Appeals decision to remove District Court Justice Royce Lamberth from the Indian trust fund mismanagement case presents a new challenge for efforts to win justice for Native Americans, the Friends Committee on National Legislation said today.

Over a century ago, in 1887, the federal government insisted on collecting money owed to Native Americans for use of their land and holding it in trust. But the federal government failed to maintain a full accounting of tens of billions of dollars in rents and royalties and now states that a complete accounting is impossible. Working through the system, a half-million individual American Indians sued the federal government in the case originally known as Cobell v. Norton (now known as Cobell v. Kempthorne) to force the Department of the Interior to provide an accounting of their land-use money.

Judge Lamberth, in describing the situation, wrote: “The idea that Interior would either instruct or allow BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] to withhold trust payments, and then to stonewall the Indians who dared to ask why, is an obscenity that harkens back to the darkest days of United States–Indian relations.” In removing Judge Lamberth, the appellate court cited an opinion issued last July in which Judge Lamberth wrote passionately for justice for Native Americans trust account plaintiffs.

“Judge Lamberth has listened to people long ignored. We appreciate his heartfelt passion and his plain-spokenness,” said Joe Volk, Executive Secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation. “It is difficult to think of another person who has risked so much professionally to stop egregious conduct against American Indians who have done nothing wrong and to encourage our government to demonstrate that this is a new era of reconciliation where it can be counted on by Native American people.” Volk expressed satisfaction that the higher court found the Indians’ case had merit and that reforming the Indian trust fund system was a worthy cause.

The Friends Committee on National Legislation, the oldest registered religious lobby in Washington, is a non-partisan Quaker lobby in the public interest. FCNL works with a nationwide network of tens of thousands of people from many different races, religions, and cultures to advocate for social and economic justice, peace, and good government. For more information:

Friday, July 14, 2006

DR Congo: Guns for Bikes

DR Congo backs 'guns for bikes'
A scheme under which gunmen in the Democratic Republic of Congo are given bicycles in exchange for their weapons is being extended due to its success.

Ngoy Mulunda, a pastor in the south-eastern Katanga region, says he has been given some 6,500 weapons in the past year, which he has destroyed.

The programme is now being extended to the neighbouring South Kivu province.

A BBC correspondent says it has proved more successful than the UN disarmament exercise, following a five-year war.

The BBC's Jonathan Kacelewa in Bukavu says a bicycle, worth about $50, makes a big difference to the lives of local people.

In South Kivu, however, zinc roofing sheets are being given out instead of bicycles.

The scheme, run through Pastor Mulunda's NGO Parec, is now being backed by President Joseph Kabila.

Congolese troops, backed by United Nations peacekeepers, have been forcibly disarming militias in eastern DR Congo ahead of landmark elections due to take place on 30 July.


==      Katanga: The Congo’s Forgotten Crisis (International Crisis Group Report)

ARMS AND LIGHT WEAPONS » Kigali, 20 to 21 September 2005
(see p. 7-8)

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The one who walked away

Sisters, brothers, and all gentle & fierce souls:

This article describes the work of a violence reduction program in South Bend, Indiana, called CeaseFire.  It's success seems to be attributable to the combination of a clear mission, creative program, the right people and the right time. 

Might a similar program make sense in your area?  If so, contact me for help getting started. 

Are you already involved with a similar effort?  Send news that I can share!

Blessings on all peacebuilding efforts,

~ Matt Guynn
On Earth Peace


The one who walked away
By Gwen O'Brien

Jay Caponigro '91 paces the sidewalk in the dark at the corner of a normally busy South Bend intersection. Back and forth. Back and forth.

It's a horrible night.

City police shut off the Friday-night traffic along this stretch of Mishawaka Avenue, not far from Caponigro's home. They're investigating the shooting of one of their own. It happened in the parking lot on a nearby side street. Details are sketchy at best. The officer was off-duty and not in uniform when he was shot. He's fighting for his life at a local hospital.

Caponigro's concern is not that of a resident worried about his property value going down from neighborhood violence. But he is contemplating another investment -- the time and effort he and others have put into the community to prevent something like this happening.

Caponigro is director of the Robinson Community Learning Center, started by the University of Notre Dame five years ago. RCLC sits on Eddy Street, a couple blocks south and a world away from campus. Caponigro and others affiliated with the center have been working to reduce violence by offering residents opportunities for a better future through education and job training. They work tirelessly with at-risk youth. He just found out he knows a young man who may be involved in the shooting.

When Caponigro heard the series of gunshots pierce the quiet of this mild April night, he picked up the phone and within minutes had more information than even police had. The person on the other end of the line was a man named Rey Newbill.

Newbill was at RCLC getting a midnight barbeque underway. He's the lead outreach specialist of CeaseFire, a violence intervention program brought here about a year ago from Chicago and incubated at the center. If anyone could find out what was going on, it was Newbill.

A hard life

Newbill grew up seeing his dad slide a pistol in his shoulder holster before heading out the door. By the time Newbill was a teenager, he was carrying a gun with him wherever he went.

Having a gun at the ready is like an insurance policy when you spend your day in the urban jungle. If someone pulls a gun on you, you got to be quick on the draw. One day in 1988, Newbill was quicker than the drunk, coked-up man who pointed a gun at him. He fired his pistol and killed his father.

Authorities saw it as a case of self-defense. The 19-year-old Newbill was not charged, but he convicted himself. Within a year, he tried crack cocaine to escape what he'd done.

"Just dealing with killing my father got me into the drugs. I didn't have anyone to talk to." Newbill's parents had divorced when he was 12. He lived with his mother and, he says, she was always working. "Mom would buy me things to make up for not being there, but I really needed her there for me. Since she wasn't, the streets took me in."

Newbill ran with the South Side Dawgs. He sold crack, weed and, later, heroin. In 1996, he served a short prison sentence for a handgun violation. He racked up numerous warrants for gun-related charges ranging from battery to criminal confinement. Newbill moved from state to state to escape the law, but by age 35 he was tired of running and selling.

"I just grew up," he says. "The Lord opened my eyes. I knew about the Lord, but I ran from him. I was scared of being a man."

Newbill returned to South Bend and got himself a lawyer. He says the old charges went away. "I gave my life to Him and He started making things happen."

His mother introduced him to her pastor, and they talked about what he could do with his life. "I told him I wanted to work with kids and show them there's a better way."

The pastor introduced him to Jay Caponigro in October 2004, just as Caponigro was looking to bring CeaseFire to South Bend. In a year's time, the burly tattooed Newbill gained the trust of countless African-American teenage boys and helped many of them get their GEDs and jobs. He became particularly close to a young man we will call Devon.

To read the rest of this story, please visit

CPT & Mennonite delegates call for end to Canadian secret trials

Dear friends,

WELCOME to all the new members of the Peace Witness Action List who signed up at the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference last week!

Here's an Anabaptist peacemaking news item from Alberta! 
        I especially appreciated the mention of Anabaptist spiritual disciplines below. . .  What is the difference for you between peacemaking/truth telling/economic sharing as *spiritual disciplines* instead of simply good moral choices?

Blessings to you,
Matt Guynn
On Earth Peace

CPTnet ~
11 July 2006

EDMONTON, ALBERTA: CPT, Mennonite Church Canada delegates call for end to secret trials and "security certificates."

On Thursday, 6 July 2006, Mennonite Church Canada Assembly delegates and Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) Canada members and supporters walked en masse to deliver a petition of eighty signatures to the office of Edmonton-Strathcona Member of Parliament (MP) Rahim Jaffer.  The petition called for an end to secret trials in Canada, and release or charge of those currently held under "security certificates."

The government of Canada, using a secret trial security certificate under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, can declare any refugee or permanent resident inadmissible to Canada, have them arrested, and held without charge or bail indefinitely.  It can also refuse to allow either that person or their lawyer to see the evidence against them.  Currently, Canada is detaining five Muslim men on security certificates, who have served between three and six years without charge.

Delegate Judith Doell, pastor of Whitewater Mennonite Church in Boissevain, Manitoba, admitted that she was not aware of this issue until she saw information at the Assembly.  What drew her to the walk is a passion for justice, an uneasiness with growing militarization in Canada, and the message of the Assembly Ministers' Conference held the first day.

"We talked about three spiritual disciplines of the Anabaptists--peacemaking, truth telling and economic sharing.  Speaking out against these secret trials is peacemaking and truth telling in action."

The walk began at the Delta Edmonton South Hotel, where over 500 delegates to the annual assembly met over four days, and attracted representatives from the Edmonton Coalition Against War and Racism, the Raging Grannies and Women in Black.  Three kilometres and forty-five minutes later, the group of more than twenty arrived at the office of MP Rahim Jaffer.  In his absence, the group presented the petition and background information to Jaffer's staff.  CPT Co-Director Doug Pritchard noted to those gathered that Jaffer, in attending Edmonton area vigils, had supported CPT during a four-month kidnapping crisis in Iraq which took a CPT delegation of four hostage.

"Now, we're urging Mr.  Jaffer to consider a similarity and use his position as MP to call for the abolition of this unjust legislation," Pritchard said.

Former CPT hostage James Loney advocated for the detainees in an open letter to MPs delivered last month during Supreme Court of Canada hearings on the constitutionality of security certificates legislation.  "Insofar as these five men have not been charged, they are subject to an unjust deprival of freedom just as I was," he wrote.