WASHINGTON (RNS) A city court on Tuesday (Oct. 11) dropped charges against a group of religious and civic leaders who were arrested in July during a prayer vigil for the poor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.
The vigil, held at the height of the summer’s debt ceiling debate, aimed to stop Congress from cutting funding to programs that benefit the most needy in the U.S. and abroad.
“We are guilty of one charge: the promotion of social righteousness,” said the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, director of public witness for the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Nelson, one of the 11 people arrested for refusing to leave the rotunda, called the vigil an act of “civil disobedience.”
The court-approved settlement dismissed misdemeanor charges of “intention to disrupt Congress” as long as the group stays out of the Capitol for six months and submits to a drug screening.
“While we accept the agreement to resolve the charges against us, we do not regret or apologize for our actions,” said the Rev. Bob Edgar, president of the advocacy organization Common Cause, and a former general secretary of the National Council of Churches.
At a prayer conference held outside the courthouse, Edgar invoked the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and said, “More people across the country should be standing up for those who have no voice.”
The rotunda action was part of an ongoing, national “Faithful Budget Campaign” that tries to mobilize Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders to advocate for the poor, disabled and elderly.
The Rev. Jennifer Butler, executive director of the advocacy group Faith in Public Life, said the “Rotunda 11” had aims similar to the burgeoning “Occupy Wall Street” movement around the country.
“We are working for an economy that protects the least of these and where the very wealthy pay their fair share,” Butler said. “We pray for members of Congress that they will repent and turn to the common good.”