Settlement in Capitol Rotunda Arrests

A UMNS Report
By Emily Snell*

6:00 P.M. EDT October 11, 2011

Two United Methodist leaders and nine other faith leaders arrested July 28 in the Capitol Rotunda after refusing to stop public prayers have agreed to a pretrial settlement.

The settlement will not involve fines or jail time, but most of those arrested — now known as the Rotunda 11 — will be required to complete a drug-screening program and to stay out of the Capitol building for six months.

The Rev. Bob Edgar, a United Methodist elder and president of Common Cause, a national advocacy group, and Jim Winkler, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, the denomination’s social action agency, were among those arrested and charged with a misdemeanor. The group held a prayer vigil in the rotunda of the Capitol as a response to the budget crisis.

The action, which was termed a “faithful act of civil disobedience,” lasted about 90 minutes before police began making arrests.

Winkler said after the arrests that the vigils were an interreligious effort to raise the voice of people of faith on behalf of the poorest and most vulnerable. “We are sending a visible signal to those in power that we do not believe the negotiations over the debt ceiling and budget can be resolved on the backs of poor people, ” he said.

“We understood at the outset that the vigil could have legal consequences,” Edgar said. “While we accept the agreement to resolve the charges against us, we do not regret or apologize for our actions,” he said.

A news release from Common Cause said the settlement was a resolution to the charges filed when the leaders performed a prayer service in the rotunda of the Capitol building “on behalf of the poor and voiceless.”

“We went to the rotunda at the height of the budget debate to refocus the attention of Congress, President Obama and the nation on the plight of millions of sick, poor and working Americans,” Edgar said. “We must keep their struggles paramount in all our minds as we attempt to fashion solutions to our nation’s fiscal problems.”

Winkler said he also had a personal reason for getting involved. He recalled how legendary Vietnam-era pacifist A.J. Muste stood alone for nights on end outside the White House, holding a candle to protest the war. When a journalist asked if Muste truly thought he could “change the policies of this country by standing out here alone at night with a candle,” Muste had a simple reply:

“Oh, I don’t do this to change the country,” he said. “I do this so the country won’t change me.”

Winkler wrote in a Sept. 27 commentary in Faith in Action, a publication of the Board of Church and Society, that “social justice ministry is difficult, no argument there. It is a daily struggle. As followers of Jesus Christ, we cannot withdraw from the battle, though. Instead, we must draw on his compassion for the least, the last and the lost to re-energize us each time we may falter.”

Before the sentencing, a small prayer service took place outside the D.C. Superior Court. Four members of the group spoke and prayed.

The coalition of arrested leaders in addition to Edgar and Winkler included:

  • The Rev. Jennifer Butler, executive director of Faith and Public Life
  • The Rev. Paul Sherry, director, Washington, D.C., Office of Interfaith Worker Justice, and national coordinator, Faith Advocates for Jobs Campaign
  • The Rev.  J. Herbert Nelson, director of public witness, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
  • The Rev. Michael Livingston, past president, National Council of the Churches of Christ (USA)
  • Sandy Sorensen, director, 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 policy advisor, Pax Christi USA 
  • Rabbi Arthur Waskow, The Shalom Center, Philadelphia

The cases of two of the demonstrators were handled separately. At the hearing, Stokan pleaded guilty and was fined the minimum of $50. The sentence for Waskow is pending because of his health-related absence.

*Snell is a United Methodist Communications intern and a senior at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Maggie Hillery, Nashville, Tenn., 615-742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

 

This article originally appeared on the website of the United Methodist Church at http://www.umc.org/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?b=5259669&c=lwL4KnN1LtH&ct=11290173 .

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