Megan Rice

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Megan Rice
Born (1930-01-31) January 31, 1930 (age 89)

Megan Gillespie Rice, S.H.C.J., (born January 31, 1930) is an anti-nuclear activist and Roman Catholic religious sister of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus and former missionary.[1] She is notable for breaking into the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, at the age of 82, with two fellow activists of the Transform Now Plowshares group. The break in was an antiwar protest referred to as "the biggest security breach in the history of the nation's atomic complex."[1]

Rice was sentenced to almost three years in prison. In May 2015, the conviction for sabotage was vacated by a federal appeals court on the grounds that the prosecution failed to prove that Rice and the two others had the intention of causing injury to the national defense system.[2] Part of the court ruling read "But vague platitudes about a facility's 'crucial role in the national defense' are not enough to convict a defendant of sabotage."[3] The lesser charge of injuring government property was upheld by the court but Rice was released within a week as the 2 years she had already served would be more than the re-sentencing for the upheld conviction.

Early life and education[edit]

Rice, the youngest of three girls in a Roman Catholic family of Irish descent, was born and raised in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of New York City.[4]

Her father, Frederick W. Rice, was an obstetrician-gynecologist who taught at New York University and treated patients at several New York City hospitals. Her mother, Madeleine Newman Hooke Rice, was a Barnard College graduate who undertook graduate studies at Columbia University while her children were growing up, obtaining a doctorate in history and writing a dissertation on Catholic views about slavery.[1][5] Frederick and Madeleine Rice were active participants in the Catholic Worker movement and considered Dorothy Day a good friend.[5]

Rice was educated in Catholic schools and joined the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus at age 18.[1][5] She was trained as an elementary school teacher and taught in the early grades in Mount Vernon, New York. Through part-time study at Fordham and Villanova Universities, she earned a bachelor's degree in biology from Villanova in 1957, then studied cellular biology at Boston College, where she received a master's degree.[1][5][6] She then served various stints as a teacher in Nigeria and Ghana from 1962 to 2004.[1]

Anti-war movement[edit]

In the 1980s she became engaged in the anti-war movement. Since then she has engaged in protests against a variety of American military actions, military sites, and nuclear installations.[1] Rice has been arrested more than three dozen times in acts of civil disobedience, including her anti-nuclear activism[1] as a staff member of Nevada Desert Experience[7] in Las Vegas at the Nevada Test Site and protests against the US Army School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia.[8] She has served two six-month prison sentences resulting from trespasses during protests against the US Army School of the Americas in 1997–99.[6][9]

Rice became so known for her activism that the United States Department of Energy funded an oral history on her, to help understand her antinuclear views.[1]

Y-12 break-in and protest[edit]

On July 28, 2012, Rice (aged 82), and two fellow activists (Michael R. Walli (aged 63) and Gregory I. Boertje-Obed (aged 57)), broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, spray-painted antiwar slogans, and splashed blood on the outside of the heavily guarded Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility.[10] The three are members of the organization "Transform Now Plowshares", a part of the Plowshares Movement, which references the Book of Isaiah's call to "hammer their swords into plowshares", i.e., convert weapons into peaceful tools. Justifying their infiltration of the Oak Ridge facility, the trio cited both Biblical verses calling for world peace and the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons as justifications. The New York Times reported that nuclear experts called this action "the biggest security breach in the history of the nation's atomic complex."[1]

Rice, Walli, and Boertje-Obed were initially charged with misdemeanor trespass and "destruction and depredation" of government property (a felony)[1] which faced up to a $100,000 fine and up to a year in prison.[11] When they refused to plead guilty to those charges they were instead charged with violating the peacetime provision of the Sabotage Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2155(a), which Congress enacted during World War II, and applies only if they acted "with intent to injure, interfere with, or obstruct the national defense," and authorizes a sentence of up to 20 years.[12] They were also charged with causing more than $1,000 damage to government property, carrying up to 10 years in prison.[13]

On May 9, 2013, the three were convicted. In her testimony Sister Megan said "I regret I didn't do this 70 years ago."[14] Her sentencing was originally scheduled for January 28, 2014,[15] but was postponed to February 18, 2014 due to a snow storm.[16] On February 18, 2014, Rice was sentenced to 35 months in prison, and Walli and Boertje-Obed were each sentenced to 62 months.[17]

On May 8, 2015, a 2-1 decision in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found that the trio lacked the necessary intent for the sabotage conviction and overturned it for all three of them.[12] The lesser charge of injuring government property was upheld however, and the court ordered re-sentencing based on that conviction. They were released from prison on May 16 under an emergency release petition that was unopposed by the prosecution, on the grounds that the normal period for re-sentencing would take several weeks and the new sentences for the upheld conviction would probably be shorter than the two years they had already served.[18][19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k William J. Broad, "Behind Nuclear Breach, a Nun's Bold Fervor", The New York Times, August 11, 2012.
  2. ^ "Democracy Now!". Democracy Now!. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  3. ^ "Sabotage conviction overturned for nun, activists". The Tennessean. May 8, 2015. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  4. ^ Tom Deignan, "Are the Irish liberal or conservative? GOP's Paul Ryan meet Sister Megan Gillespie Rice",, August 17, 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d Suzanne Becker (2007). "Interview with Megan Rice, June 22, 2005". Nevada Test Site Oral History Project, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Retrieved August 11, 2012.
  6. ^ a b "November 1997", "Chronology of SOA Prisoners of Conscience", US Army School of the Americas Watch,; last visited August 8, 2012.
  7. ^ "Nevada Desert Experience: About NDE". Archived from the original on August 29, 2010. Retrieved August 23, 2012.
  8. ^ "This Week in Georgia", Atlanta Journal and Constitution, November 17, 1996.
  9. ^ Peg Morton, "End of Summer Reflections", West by Northwest, September 7, 2005.
  10. ^ Tim Phillips, "Break-In at Tennessee Nuclear Facility was Politically Motivated, not just a Security Breach", Activist Defense, August 25, 2012.
  11. ^ Nick Allen, "G4S Under Fire After Nun Breaks into US Nuclear Facility", The Telegraph, August 3, 2012.
  13. ^ Leader, Jessica (May 9, 2013). "Sister Megan Rice, 82-Year-Old Nun, Will Receive Sentencing With Other Activists For Damaging Nuclear Site". Huffington Post. Retrieved May 9, 2013.
  14. ^ Koplowitz, Howard (May 9, 2013). "Nun, 83, Convicted Of Breaking Into Tennessee Nuclear Site: 'My Regret Was I Waited 70 Years,' Sister Megan Rice Says". International Business Times. Retrieved January 17, 2014.
  15. ^ Harkinson, Josh (January 15, 2014). "Nun Faces up to 30 Years for Breaking Into Weapons Complex, Embarrassing the Feds". Mother Jones. Retrieved January 17, 2014.
  16. ^ Erdogan, Melodi (January 28, 2014). "Snow delays sentencing for Tennessee nuclear facility break-in". Reuters. Retrieved February 1, 2014.
  17. ^ Tim Phillips, "Activists Sentenced for Politically Motivated Break-In at Tennessee Nuclear Facility",, February 18, 2014.
  18. ^ "Nun, 85, in nuclear protest set to remain free after sabotage charge dropped". The Guardian. June 22, 2015. Retrieved January 30, 2016.
  19. ^ "Activist Nun Sister Megan Rice And Two Fellow Anti-Nuclear Advocates Released From Prison". The Huffington Post. January 15, 2014. Retrieved May 18, 2015.

Further reading[edit]

  • Steven Kalas, "Living with Integrity Is Its Own Reward", Las Vegas Review-Journal, January 1, 2005 (profile of Rice and fellow activists)
  • Discussion of encounter with Rice in Devil's Tango: How I Learned the Fukushima Step by Step by Cecile Pineda (2012), Chapter 78, "Two Halves Make One Whole", pp. 105–106.

External links[edit]