Religious Leaders Arrested in U.S. Capitol Rotunda Have Their Day in Court

October 11, 2011

For Immediate Release
October 11, 2011

WASHINGTON – The 11 religious leaders arrested on July 28 while praying on behalf of the nation’s most vulnerable in the Capitol Rotunda were in court this morning to discuss the misdemeanor, “Intention to Disrupt Congress,” charge brought against them. The United States Attorney agreed to dismiss the charges against the “Rotunda 11” if each religious official stays out of the Capitol Building for next six months.

The faith leaders’ peaceful and faithful 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 faith community’s campaign, the Faithful Budget Campaign www.DomesticHumanNeeds.org is seeking to encourage the administration and Congress to maintain a robust commitment to domestic and international poverty programs by lifting up faithful voices on behalf of the nation’s most vulnerable. In July, the campaign organized 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 arrest of 11 faith leaders after praying for 90 minutes and refusing to leave the Rotunda after repeated requests from U.S. Capitol Police. The arrest of the faith leaders came just days before Congress passed the debt ceiling compromise.

Since the arrest of the Rotunda 11, the American faith community has extended the Faithful Budget Campaign into the hometowns of the “Deficit Super Committee” members. As a result, numerous churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship in the states and districts of members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, as well as congressional leadership, are hosting prayer vigils and other demonstrations to encourage “Deficit Super Committee” members to recommend a fair deficit reduction plan that exempts programs from budget cuts that assist the most at-risk families and children in the U.S. and abroad.

The faith community has worked alongside the United States government for decades to protect those struggling to overcome poverty in the U.S. and abroad. The faith community fears without a sustained federal commitment to these programs, houses of worship will not be able to solely support the country’s most vulnerable in their time of need.

Additional details about the Faithful Budget Campaign can be found on the campaign’s website, www.DomesticHumanNeeds.org .

Ecumenical Advocacy Days’ 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 be a highlight in the overall interfaith effort to seek a global economy and a national budget that breaks the yokes of injustice, poverty, hunger and unemployment in the U.S. and abroad. Register Now for EAD 2012 at www.AdvocacyDays.org

The 11 senior religious leaders arrested were:

· Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, President, Common Cause
· Jim Winkler, General Secretary, United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society GBCS)
· Rev. Jennifer Butler, Executive Director, Faith in Public Life
· Rev. Paul Sherry, Director of Public Policy, Interfaith Worker Justice
· Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, Director of Public Witness, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
· Rev. Michael Livingston, Past President, National Council of the Churches of Christ (USA)
· 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
· Rabbi Arthur Waskow (*), The Shalom Center, Philadelphia

(*) Jean Stokan and Arthur Waskow’s cases will be handled separately.

Statements by Leaders of the Faithful Budget Campaign Arrested on July 28:

“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 Rev. Michael Livingston, Past President of the National Council of the Churches of Christ (USA). “We need to raise revenue and lift the poor. We need a faithful budget that cares for people and makes for peace.”

“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. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, Director of Public Witness for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). “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.”

“Our nation’s budget problems can be addressed, but only if all of us accept responsibility for the welfare of all,” agreed the Rev. Paul H. Sherry, Director of the Washington DC Office, Interfaith Worker Justice.

“Those who struggle on the economic margins of our society, children living in poverty, people living with chronic health issues, seniors, women trying to escape domestic violence in their homes – the most vulnerable do not have a voice at the budget/debt ceiling negotiation table,” said Sandy Sorensen, Director of the Washington office of the United Church of Christ’s Justice and Witness Ministries. “Our faith calls us to lift up the voices and the stories of the most vulnerable. With economic disparities becoming ever greater, now is not the time to balance budgets on the backs of the most vulnerable. We risk leaving our children to shoulder a legacy of poverty, underinvestment and diminished opportunities if we do not adequately fund programs that invest in the common good and make all of our communities strong. Now is the time for our elected leaders to put aside special interests and political advantage and stand for the common good.”

“Already less than 1 percent of the federal budget, cutting aid to poor countries will mean countless more families going hungry and many more children dying needlessly of disease,” said Martin Shupack, Director of Advocacy for Church World Service. “Christianity and other faiths insist that society make it a priority to help people who are poor and vulnerable. Helping our neighbors in need wherever they are is a moral imperative and it makes America more secure. The faithful way to fiscal health is for Congress to focus on job creation, ensuring that the most advantaged Americans pay their fair share of taxes, and reducing unnecessary military spending.”

“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,” said the Rev. Jennifer Butler, Executive Director of the Faith in Public Life based in Washington, DC.

Christian, Jewish and Muslim institutions and faith-based organizations united by shared beliefs to lift up the nation’s most vulnerable, are mobilizing across the country to impact the national budget dialogue by demonstrating that America is a better nation when we follow our faiths’ imperative to promote the general welfare of all individuals.

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