Tacoma Church Declares Itself Sanctuary for Soldiers Refusing Iraq Tour
Associated Press, published by The Olympian, June 15, 2006

TACOMA — The 300-member congregation’s administrative council of the First United Methodist Church of Tacoma has declared itself to be a sanctuary for servicemen and servicewomen who don’t want to go to Iraq. The council voted last weekend to open its doors to those service people beginning Saturday, church officials said on Wednesday.

The Rev. Monty Smith told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that the church has not received any applications for sanctuary from members of the armed forces.

The decision by the church comes after 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, a Fort Lewis Army officer, announced that he won’t go to Iraq although he could face two years in prison for failing to deploy.

A statement from the church said that service members ”who are unable to deploy to combat areas for reasons of conscience” can find protection behind its doors.

Smith said that ”our initiative was because of Lieutenant Watada’s gesture.”

Smith said the church stands ”in solidarity” with others who hold similar views on Iraq. The church said it was essentially providing a protective space and resources to those contemplating whether to resist deployment to Iraq, Smith said.

Watada, 28, a native of Honolulu, is a member of the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, the Army’s first Stryker Brigade Combat Team. The unit is set to begin leaving this month for a second mission in Iraq. This would be Watada’s first deployment to Iraq.

Watada has tried twice before to resign from the Army. He continues to work and train as an artillery-targeting officer, but is under investigation, his lawyer and military officials said.