'Interfaith 11' plans prayer press conference prior to court date over July prayer-vigil arrests
Written by Jeff Woodard
October 10, 2011
WASHINGTON, D.C. A group of civic and interfaith
religious leaders –– including former UCC President the Rev. Paul H. Sherry and
Sandy Sorensen, director of the UCC Washington, D.C., office –– will lead a
brief “prayer conference” outside Superior Court Tuesday morning, Oct. 11, to
highlight their support for a just and compassionate federal budget.
The 8 a.m. (EDT) press conference precedes a 9 a.m.
hearing at which Sherry, Sorensen and nine others –– the “Interfaith 11” ––
will meet with the U.S. Attorney. It is expected that the Attorney will dismiss
charges brought against the group for its act of peaceful and faithful civil
disobedience in July, providing they stay out of the Capitol Building for six
Sherry, Sorensen and nine others were arrested July 28
during a prayer vigil in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. They were charged
with intending to disrupt Congress, a misdemeanor, after praying for about 90
minutes and refusing to leave the Rotunda.
The vigil was in response to the threatened shutdown of
the federal government over the deadlocked legislation. The 11 –– also known in
the Washington, D.C., area as the “Rotunda 11” –– prayed for a budget agreement
that protects poor, infirm and disadvantaged persons in the United States and
abroad, and called on everyone in the country to bear a fair share of the
nation’s financial burdens.
“When you talk about cutting programs for our vulnerable
communities in order to decrease the deficit, what about the deficit we’d be
creating in the quality of human life and human community?” asked Sorensen.
“What’s that going to mean for people who are already on the edge?”
While fines and community service were waived for the
group, Sorensen noted that the treatment of the “Interfaith 11” seemed
inconsistent and, at times, harsh. For example, all 11 were ordered to
participate in a weekly drug test for three consecutive weeks.
“What was telling
and poignant about going through the drug tests is that our prayer was intended
to lift up the voices of the marginalized, and here we all are going into
Superior Court three weeks in a row, standing with the people we’re praying for
–– those caught in the criminal justice system,” said Sorensen.
“You can tell that the people in that line are totally
being let down by the political gamesmanship that’s going on. If only members
of Congress would come here and stand in this line for an hour and see what
people are up against.”
Nine of the 11 have completed the drug-testing. “The
cases of two members are being handled separately,” said Sorensen. One of the
group, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, is currently being treated for throat cancer, but
the government’s attorney keeps reiterating that the drug-testing is
non-negotiable, Sorensen added.
While describing Capitol Police as “generally very
professional” during the arrest and detention process, Sorensen voiced concern
over a recent trend in crackdowns on civil disobedience.
“We were handcuffed to a wall,” she said. “I hadn’t
experienced this before in a civil disobedience action. The whole process, for
all of us, seemed disorganized. They’d make one decision, then reverse it. It
was unusually erratic. There’s clearly been a turn in the way they’re handling
that kind of thing.”
“My concern is that I had resources to engage in that
action [and deal with the legal after-effects],” said Sorensen. “What about
people who may not have that, but want to be a part of the process, want to speak
out? Civil disobedience is part of the history of this country.”
“I think it is an opportune time to tap into the
frustration that is welling up across the country –– time to reclaim the
democratic process heading into the 2012 elections,” said Sorensen.
In addition to Sorensen and Sherry, the group includes:
James Winkler, general secretary, General Board of Church and Society, United
Methodist Church; Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Shalom Center in Philadelphia; the Rev.
Jennifer Butler, executive director, Faith and Public Life; 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); Jordan Blevins, director of Peace Witness Ministries, Church of the
Brethren; the Rev. Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause; Martin Shupack,
Director of Advocacy, Church World Service; and Sister Jean Stokan, Sisters of
Mercy and Pax Christi USA.
The 1.2-million-member United Church of Christ, with
national offices in Cleveland, has some 5,200 local congregations in the United
States. It was formed by the 1957 union of the Congregational Christian
Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church.