Thursday, March 22, 2007

Not the Smallest Grain of Incense, Tom Cornell

Bio: Tom Cornell, head of the Catholic Peace Fellowship, and an associate editor of The Catholic Worker, has been active in all forms of peace education and activism. This selection * is a statement made before sentencing at his trial in November, 1966 for destruction of his draft card. On May 27, 1968, the Supreme Court ruled 7-1 to uphold the 1965 law which makes it a crime to burn or otherwise destroy a draft card; Tom Cornell began to serve his sentence in June


"The Justice Department took it all with unaccustomed gravity. The gods had been mocked, and that could not be ignored.

It is characteristic of states to gather power unto themselves. With the accumulation of power they quickly forget the source and the purpose of that power. They tend to take on divine prerogatives. God alone has dominion over human life. Yet the state usurps that dominion by exacting capital punishment and by prosecuting war, always, mind you, in self-defense.

Throughout the Old Testament there is the recurring theme of idolatry. The early Christians were well aware of it too. Less so today. I submit, Your Honor, that the state today, the Government of the United States of America, is just as much a pagan god as Caesar was in imperial Rome, and that our society is just as guilty of idolatry as the worshipers at Caesar’s pagan altars. This new Moloch demands the bodies of our young men in its service, the service of death rather than the service of life, and little by little it exacts the souls of all of us as well, so that in the name of anti-communism and anti-totalitarianism, we are moving toward universal conscription. As part of this process, the Congress took a small piece of paper, of no significant value to anyone but a bar tender, and said over it, “Hoc est enim Corpus Meum.” The sacrament of the state then had to be honored. So the act of burning the draft cards was for me an act of purposeful desecration and an act of purification. Let not any state have such trappings, or arrogate to itself such prerogatives. It is blasphemy! I suspect that the great public interest that was generated by this symbolic act came from a dim awareness in the public mind that a blasphemous profanation had been made of the state religion. How else explain it, that burning an insignificant piece of paper is a crime, but that burning children in napalm is sacred duty?"

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