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July 25, 2001, NEW YORK CITY -  The General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, Dr. Bob Edgar, has asked New York Governor George Pataki in a July 24 letter to "do whatever is in your power" to secure the release from prison of the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Sharpton, a well-known human-rights activist and President of the New-York City-based National Action Network, is being held for 90 days in the Federal Correctional Facility in Brooklyn, N.Y. He was arrested May 23 for entering the U.S. Naval Base on Vieques to protest Navy bombings on the island off Puerto Rico, which the U.S. has long used as a site for war exercises.

On behalf of the Council's 36 Protestant and Orthodox communions, whose congregants in the U.S. number more than 50 million, Edgar called the length of Sharpton's sentence "unjust" and "a disturbing message to those concerned for freedoms in a democratic society."

Edgar said the Council's interest in the case grows out of the organization's efforts of more than 20 years, in partnership with Puerto Rican churches, to end the bombings on Vieques and restore the island's environment.


The full text of Dr. Edgar's letter follows:

July 24, 2001

The Honorable George E. Pataki
State Capitol
Albany, NY 12224

Dear Governor Pataki:

I write to you today on behalf of the 36 Protestant and Orthodox communions that make up the National Council of Churches regarding the incarceration of the Rev. Al Sharpton in the Federal Correctional Facility in Brooklyn, New York-where he is serving a three-month sentence for committing a peaceful act of civil disobedience on Vieques. We believe the length of his sentence is unjust and we urge you to do whatever is in your power to secure his immediate release and to suspend the balance of his sentence.

The National Council of Churches' interest in this case grows out of our participation in the movement to halt U.S. Navy war exercises on Vieques. Our active support for this cause goes back more than 20 years and has strengthened our historic ties with the churches of Puerto Rico. For decades, we have spoken with one voice on the issue of Vieques, and our denominational and ecumenical partners in Puerto Rico have also joined in this latest call for justice for protestors on Vieques, including the Rev. Sharpton.

The harsh sentence meted out to him for taking a principled and non-violent action on Vieques is out of proportion to the gravity of his offense and, thus, sends a disturbing message to those concerned for freedoms in a democratic society. Coming at a time when President Bush has already announced that Navy exercises on Vieques will come to an end, the severity of the Rev. Sharpton's sentence raises questions as to why this controversial figure is being detained for 90 days.

We and our partners in the Puerto Rican churches are concerned about all of those imprisoned as a result of protests on Vieques. In addition to the Rev. Sharpton, these include Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Lolita Lebron, a Puerto Rican nationalist now in her 80s, and many others who have received excessive penalties for entering the U.S. naval base on Vieques to protest Navy bombings on the island. Because the Rev. Sharpton, unlike other protestors, is currently imprisoned in a facility in New York, we appeal to you as the Governor of the State of New York to intercede in this case.

Thank you for your consideration of this appeal. It comes with our heartfelt prayers for you, as you carry out the weighty responsibilities of your office.


Bob Edgar, General Secretary
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.

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