Federal Judge Upholds First Amendment Right to Demonstrate Print
COLUMBUS, GA. On Nov. 16, 1989 in El Salvador army officers trained at the School of the Americas (SOA) massacred six Jesuit priests and their two housekeepers in El Salvador. Every November since then SOA Watch, a grassroots human rights group, has commemorated that event with demonstrations and funeral processions at Ft. Benning, the home of the SOA, on the outskirts of Columbus.

Since 1990 SOA Watch has been a persistent critic of the School. SOA Watch founder Fr. Roy Bourgeois refers to the School as "the terrorist training camp right here in our own backyard."

This year the City of Columbus sought an injunction forbidding Bourgeois and other SOA Watch organizers from taking part in the procession at the entrance to Ft. Benning. Yesterday, on the 12th anniversary of the Jesuit massacre, Federal Magistrate G. Mallon Faircloth denied the City's request.

Faircloth said that even war cannot remove safeguards for civil liberties. "It was a question of First Amendment rights, and you can't play with that. I am sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution. I think I did that today," said the Judge, who last May found 26 SOA Watch demonstrators guilty of trespass for participating in last November's nonviolent funeral procession.

Twenty of those demonstrators are currently in federal prisons serving six-month sentences. They are among the 70 SOA Watch activists who since 1990 have cumulatively spent 40 years in prison for their scrupulously nonviolent protests against the SOA (recently renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation).

Tomorrow's funeral procession will begin at 8:30AM at Columbus' Main Gate Plaza, at the corner of Victory Drive and Ft. Benning Rd, a half mile from the Ft .Benning main entrance.

SOA Watch, founded in 1990, is a national, grassroots, faith and conscience- based group committed to nonviolence. We have offices in Columbus, GA, Washington, DC and chapters in communities and on campuses around the country. Our goal is to expose and close SOA/WHISC.