Charges against a group of religious and civic leaders arrested in July for holding a praying vigil in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda were dropped Tuesday and participants have told The Christian Post they have no regrets.
The arrest took place on July 28, after eleven religious leaders including Christians and a rabbi, who named themselves the Rotunda 11, refused to leave the Rotunda. The vigil, complete with prayers and singing, was meant to prevent Congress from cutting funding to programs that benefit the poor and vulnerable citizens. It was also protesting against excessive spending on wars.
The unofficial leader of the group, the Rev. Bob Edgar, CEO of the advocacy group Common Cause, has no regrets.
"I don't think we have to apologize for righteous indignation, righteous anger and frustration for how little compassion has there been in recent years among political leaders," he told CP Wednesday.
"If you read the Quran, Torah, the New Testament or the Old Testament, you can't read those documents without discovering God cares for poor people," Edgar added. "We have a righteous obligation to stand up and speak out on behalf of the poor. It's our vocational call."
The group faced charges of civil disobedience. The arrest will be visible on their records, but not conviction, Edgar explained. The eleven leaders are banned from entering Capitol Hill in the next six months. The Rabbi Arthur Waskow was excused for health reasons and asked to return for a status hearing on December 14, Edgar told CP. Another member of the group, Jim Winkler, still expects a status hearing on October 25. Jean Stokan pleaded guilty and was fined $50, altough "the Judge loved her reasoning and praised her action," Edgar told CP. Everyone else still has a status hearing to go through, but if they comply with the judge's conditions, they will have their cases dismissed on April 11, 2012 .
The group's attorney was Mark Goldstone.
"[We] believed that Congress made enormous mistakes in approving the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq, without raising the resources to pay for them," Edgar told CP. "And so both parties were wringing their hands at the deficit and debt and talking about numbers, but not talking about balancing the budget on the back of those least able to respond, particularly at this critical time when there is so much unemployment and so much distress."
On July 28, the eleven protesters were praying and singing inside the Rotunda, Edgar confirmed. They were not yelling any slogans or engaging in any controversial activities. At some point, a group of people that surrounded the protesters joined them in singing.
"[The vigil ] was organized by faithful people who were concerned that the Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, were all talking about deficit and debt without visualizing the impact these cuts are going to have on children, on the poor and the elderly," Edgar told CP.
The event took place during the heated summer debate over government spending and the July deadlock. Before the arrest, the religious leaders were first trying to convince individual politicians to listen to their arguments, the Rev. Herbert Nelson, director of public witness for the Presbyterian Church (USA), told CP Wednesday. They were visiting various politicians, but felt that their message has not gotten across. They wanted Congress to hear "not only the voice of the Church, but of the people," Nelson told CP.
"We thought it was really misleading for Congress to suggest that there is no money," he said, adding that the government was spending excessively on wars at the same time. He has also pointed out that the rich and corporations are not being taxed, as opposed to the middle and low income people. He added that it is the duty of the church to protect the vulnerable.
Both leaders remain optimistic that the massage has been sent. They see some echo of their action in the "Occupy Wall Street" movement that has spread to multiple U.S. cities and global citie over the past month.
A video shot by a bystander during the vigil shows that even a handicapped man in a wheelchair was arrested.
Others arrested during the prayer vigil were the Rev. Michael Livingston, former president of the National Council of the Churches of Christ (USA), and Jordan Blevins, director of Peace Witness ministries for the Church of the Brethren, according to the group's Facebook page.