Charges dismissed against D.C. prayer vigil leaders
Three Presbyterians among those protesting budget, deficit deals
October 12, 2011
The 11 religious leaders arrested in the Capitol Rotunda on July 28 while praying on behalf of the nation’s most vulnerable during the debt ceiling debate in Congress were in court Oct. 11.
Three of the 11 are Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ministers.
The U.S. Attorney agreed to dismiss the misdemeanor charge ― “Intention to Disrupt Congress” ― if each religious official stays out of the Capitol Building for next six months. If that and a few other conditions are met, all charges will be dropped in April 2012.
“We are facing a time of national and global unrest in which we need governmental leadership that recognizes the constitution’s call for all people to be represented,” said the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, director of Office of Public Witness for the PC(USA). “Too many of our elected officials are corporate conduits to power which leads them to exclude the masses of people around the globe in favor of the rich. This trend can only be stopped by an informed and active electorate.”
The faith leaders’ act of civil disobedience was the highlight of a public policy campaign launched by the American faith community during the height of debt ceiling debate this summer to ensure the administration and Congress do not reduce the deficit by placing an undue burden on the poor while shielding the wealthiest from additional sacrifice.
The Faithful Budget Campaign seeksto encourage the administration and Congress to maintain a robust commitment to domestic and international poverty programs. The July activities included high-level meetings with policymakers, a Washington fly-in of religious leaders, daily prayer vigils near the U.S. Capitol Building and culminated with the 11 arrests after the 11 prayed for 90 minutes and refused to leave the Rotunda after repeated requests from U.S. Capitol Police.
The arrests came just days before Congress passed the debt ceiling compromise. Since then, Faithful Budget Campaign leaders have extended their efforts into the hometowns of Congress’s Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction with prayer vigils and other peaceful demonstrations.
“I hope and pray our actions have deepened the resolve of people of faith to insist that our legislators raise revenue through closing corporate loopholes and requiring fair and just tax assessments on the wealthiest individuals in our nation and by cutting unnecessary defense spending,” said the Rev. Michael Livingston, a Presbyterian minister and past president of the National Council of the Churches of Christ (USA). Livingston is currently running the NCC’s anti-poverty program.
“We need to raise revenue and lift the poor. We need a faithful budget that cares for people and makes for peace,” he said.
The Rev. Jennifer Butler, a Presbyterian minister who serves as executive director of the Washington-based organization Faith in Public Life, added: “We went to pray in the Rotunda for the same reason folks are joining the Occupy Wall Street protests ― we are working for an economy that protects the least of these and where the very wealthy pay their fair share.”
Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD) 10th annual celebration conference, March 23-26, 2012, is titled “Is THIS the Fast I Seek? Economy, Livelihood and Our National Priorities.”
EAD is actively participating in the outreach and community organizing efforts of the Faithful Budget Campaign throughout the country occurring this fall. The March 2012 EAD gathering of 1,000 Christian advocates in Washington, DC will highlight interfaith effort to seek a global economy and a national budget that combats injustice, poverty, hunger and unemployment in the U.S. and abroad.
Online registration is open for Ecumenical Advocacy Days.
In addition to Nelson, Livingston and Butler, other religious leaders arrested were the Rev. Bob Edgar, president, Common Cause; Jim Winkler, general secretary, United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society; the Rev. Paul Sherry, director of public policy, Interfaith Worker Justice; Sandy Sorensen, director of Washington Office, United Church of Christ; Martin Shupack, director of advocacy, Church World Service; Jordan Blevins, director of peace witness ministries, Church of the Brethren; Jean Stokan, director, Institute Justice Team, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas; and Rabbi Arthur Waskow, The Shalom Center, Philadelphia.