Last Sunday, Lisa O'Quinn attended her first Meeting for Worship with McLean-based Langley Hill Friends Meeting. However, it was not typical of the usual Sunday gatherings for the Quaker worship group.
"The Meeting as a whole has never done anything like this," said congregation member David Boynton, a resident of Manassas.
The Meeting for Worship began in its usual fashion — however, at 10:30 a.m., as the children of congregation members headed to Assembly, the adult members left the Georgetown Pike Meeting House and marched in a procession toward the entrance of the CIA Langley headquarters on Route 123. The group carried a large yellow and black banner stating "Torture Is Wrong" on one side, and "Torture Violates God's Way" on the other side.
Members of Langley Hill Friends Meeting approved plans for a peaceful demonstration in front of the CIA at the worship group's Meeting for Business two weeks ago. The suggestion was made in light of the United States Senate's recent final approval of a bill that allows for harsh interrogation and prosecution of terrorism suspects. The entire Langley Hill Friends Meeting congregation agreed that an organized protest against the bill was absolutely in order.
"I knew they were going to be doing this and that's why I came," said O'Quinn, who lives in Burke. "They passed the bill and I was so upset … I wanted to express it in some way and then I found out about this — this is my first Quaker protest."
QUAKERS engage in Meeting for Worship in silence as it is their belief that God speaks directly to each individual soul, making it unnecessary for a priest or minister to mediate. Thus, the members of Langley Hill Friends Meeting walked to the CIA entrance in silence, and stood by their banner in silence until the time for worship had concluded. During the protest, cars passed by — some offering supportive honks and thumbs-up gestures, others yelling expletives. The Langley Hill Friends were unfazed, raising a hand in greeting to all who acknowledged them in a positive manner.
"It's the first time we've done this and we didn't break our silence," said Boynton, who admitted that he was "appalled" when he heard that the detainee bill had passed.
"No presidential finding makes it morally right to authorize torture," said Boynton. "And by media accounts, our neighbors — the CIA — are practicing these procedures … it's not very American to torture — I can't imagine what our legislature was thinking."
Langley Hill Friends Meeting cleared the demonstration with both the CIA and Fairfax County Police last week, and Boynton said both organizations were "very cooperative and very friendly."
"They had three concerns," said Boynton. "One was for our safety, the other was for the public's safety, and the other was that we weren't going to break any laws."
Mark Mansfield, director of public affairs for the CIA, sat near the guard booth of the Langley entrance and watched the protest from the sidelines.
"They have every right to express their views and they have done so peacefully and responsibly," said Mansfield. "But I'd like to emphasize that the CIA does not engage in, nor condone, the use of torture."
Langley Hill Friends member Bill Mims said that his only explanation for Mansfield's assertion that the CIA is not carrying out torturous investigations is that Mansfield is lying.
"That's not very Quaker of me to say, but I don't believe he's telling the truth and my view is that he's a liar," said Mims.
Boynton suggested that perhaps Mansfield's definition of torture was askew.
"My definition of torture is if they were doing it to me, would I consider it torture?" said Boynton. "By press accounts I do."
Mims agreed and added that bending the definition of torture is simply another form of deception.
"Is making misleading statements not a form of lying?" asked Mims. "Would people consider water boarding, electric shock, keeping people up for days, keeping people in the freezing cold, dog attacks — would people exclude those things from the definition of torture?"
LANGLEY HILL FRIENDS member Chuck Kleymeyer, a resident of Arlington, said that the CIA demonstration was about human rights, and went far beyond religious and political convictions.
"We agree with the secular arguments against torture as well," said Kleymeyer. "One is that it doesn't work, it doesn't produce good information … and the other is that if we take part in it, we are putting our soldiers overseas at risk — we agree with both of those arguments."
Langley Hill Friends member Steven Woodbury concurred, and said he had never participated in a protest that garnered such a strong positive response from random people passing by.
"I've been yelled at and spit at, but never this," said Woodbury, who lives in Springfield. "But I think that the level of support from the passerby's show that we are really striking a chord with people. This is not a political issue, it's a moral statement and I think that really registers with them."