TCU Daily Skiff Friday, February 06, 2004
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Federal jury uses ancient law

Interpretation of archaic law for use in the modern age is nothing new. The Bible’s Ten Commandments, though written thousands of years ago, still hold their value in modern society. The Constitution’s guarantees are often seen as justification for current situations that were hardly imaginable more than 200 years ago.

But when an old, seemingly forgotten law was dusted off in order to punish the environmental activism group Greenpeace, both eyebrows and cries of impeding freedom to protest were raised.

Greenpeace demonstrators recently boarded a cargo ship full of 70 tons of rain forest-quality mahogany bound for the Port of Miami from Brazil. Two protesters, both expert “climbers” hired by Greenpeace, were stopped and arrested on the obscure misdemeanor charge of “sailor mongering” before they could unfurl a banner reading “President Bush, stop illegal logging.”

The story, however, did not end there.

Some 15 months after those arrests, a federal grand jury indicted Greenpeace itself, under a 19th century federal law enacted to stop pimps from clambering aboard ships entering port.

The law, which hasn’t been prosecuted since 1890, was put in place to protect sailors from the temptations of wine, women and song, and ultimately a quick separation from their hard-earned money while in port.

Though the law seems somewhat trivial, its consequences are anything but.

If convicted, Greenpeace could be fined $10,000 and placed on five years of probation, a definite deterrent to future activism. The group would also have to regularly report to a federal probation officer, placing them under serious scrutiny. Worse yet, a criminal conviction would likely cost Greenpeace its tax-exempt status, the kiss of death for any non-profit group.

While Greenpeace’s tactics are sometimes questionable, its intentions are hardly those of 19th century pimps. Coaxing sailors out of money and raising awareness of global crimes against the environment are hardly in the same ballpark.

The only crime here is the fact that our government would so blatantly attempt to resurrect an outdated law to all but squash a pesky, protest-based organization. A dangerous precedent indeed.

This is a staff editorial from the OSU Daily Barometer of Oregon State University. It was distributed by U-Wire.
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