Religious Leaders Arrested At Capitol For Budget Protest (VIDEO)
WASHINGTON — Capitol Hill police arrested 11 people — many of them members of the clergy — protesting the Republican House budget-cutting plan, a police spokeswoman said.
The group, organized by Common Cause’s president, the Rev. Bob Edgar, occupied the center of the historic Rotunda for more than a half hour Thursday, praying and singing until police closed the massive chamber and arrested the group, one by one.
Before officers closed the Rotunda, many visitors sang along, clapped, and filmed the prayers, although it was not clear that passersby understood what the group was protesting.
Common Cause spokeswoman Mary Boyle said they were trying to make a simple point.
“They were trying to send the message to Congress that the budget cannot be balanced on the backs of the poor, the middle class, or the neediest in society,” Boyle said.
She said that Edgar only decided on the action recently, because it appeared likely some sort of legislation would soon come out of Congress that hurts the vulnerable.
A police spokeswoman said the clergy members were cooperative, and were charged with demonstrating in the United States Capitol. They were expected to be released in the afternoon.
One protester who was not arrested, police said, was Rabbi Arthur Waskow, of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia.
Police gave Waskow, 77, a wheelchair while he waited with his colleagues for them to be cuffed with plastic bindings. They took the chair back after the last protester was arrested. It appeared as if the elderly leader hoped to keep it to leave, but police said he did not complain.
“Congress is paralyzed by toxic partisan politics while people suffer,” said one of the protest organizers, the Rev. Michael Livingston, Past President of the National Council of the Churches of Christ (USA), in a statement.
“Our elected officials are protecting corporations and wealthy individuals while shredding the safety net for millions of the most vulnerable people in our nation and abroad. Our faith won’t allow us to passively watch this travesty unfold. … Today, we ‘offer our bodies as a living sacrifice’ to say to congress ‘Raise revenue, protect the vulnerable and those living in poverty.’”
The representatives said that if programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are cut or changed as part of spending reductions, responsibilities for assisting the poor and elderly would fall heavily on houses of worship, which they said are already strained for resources.
In addition to Livingston, those who were arrested included Jim Winkler, General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church; the Rev. Jennifer Butler, Executive Director of Faith in Public Life; the Rev. Paul Sherry, Director of the Washington Office of Interfaith Worker Justice; the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, Director of Public Witness in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); Sandy Sorenson, Director of Washington Office of the United Church of Christ; Martin Shupack, Director of Advocacy of Church World Service; Jordan Blevins, Director of Peace Witness Ministries of the Church of the Brethren; and the Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, President of Common Cause.
Also on Thursday, 70 Catholic clergy, theologians and scholars from Ohio released a letter toRepublican House Speaker John Boehner, who is from the state and is Catholic, encouraging him to not slash social programs.
“As one of the most powerful Catholics in Congress, you are now faced with a monumental choice. You can heed to the consistent moral calls from Catholics who have urged lawmakers to decrease our debt fairly and protect the most vulnerable or you can heed to growing political pressure from Tea Party Republicans,” the letter read.
The letter follows a similar statement to lawmakers that was released Wednesday by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Also this week, religious groups ran radio ads in Ohio, Kentucky and Neveda with testimonies from pastors about the effect of debt ceiling negotiations on their communities and Sojourners, a liberal Christian network, released it’s latest ad in Politico telling lawmakers that “God is watching” the debt ceiling and deficit reduction debate.
This article has been updated with reporting from the event.
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