Woe to the legislators of infamous laws...who cheat the poor among my people of their rights." As the words of Isaiah 10 echoed around the Capitol Rotunda, 55 inner-city pastors and workers from community-based ministries to the homeless, sick, and hungry knelt in prayer for the poor of our nation. They ranged in age from 23 to 78, and included nationally known religious leaders Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, Ron Sider, and Eugene Rivers.
The Capitol Witness began on the morning of December 7, as nearly 100 people gathered in a local church for briefings, singing, and prayer. The power of the Spirit was clearly felt as we prepared to proclaim the Word of God in the seat of power.
The group walked to the Capitol and, after a final prayer on the steps, entered the Rotunda. Gathering in a circle, the words of the Bible proclaiming God's love for the poor and judgment on their oppressors were read. As we knelt and began to pray, the police issued a warning, and then began to make arrests while those remaining continued to pray until all were arrested.
An unexpected aspect was that the police did not clear the Rotunda. They set up a perimeter around those praying, arresting everyone inside, but allowed others to stay. At the time, a group of students from a local Catholic school were touring the Capitol and watched the scene unfold. As the arrestees were led away, the students applauded for them.
Processing at Capitol Police Headquarters took seven hours. All were charged with "demonstrating within a Capitol building" and released for arraignment.
Thirty-nine of the participants were sentenced on December 14, and received a "creative" sentence from Judge Patricia Wynn. The sentence involves 30 days unsupervised probation and writing a letter to Judge Wynn explaining their understanding of the relationship between the civil law and a "higher law," and how their obedience to the latter differs from that of the assassin of Yitzhak Rabin.