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Black clergy arrested while protesting Trump administration policies

Sixteen protesters were arrested Tuesday (July 18) on charges of "crowding, obstructing or incommoding" while trying to raise awareness of what they said was unjust legislation.

An ecumenical group of African-American clergy gathers outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on July 18, 2017, in opposition to the proposed budget and the health care bill. RNS photo by Madeleine Buckley

WASHINGTON (RNS) — Hoping to steer national politics in a different direction, black clergy from several denominations came together for the first-ever “African American Clergy Advocacy Day” on Capitol Hill to protest federal budget cuts proposed by the Trump administration.

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As happened last week at a similar protest, authorities arrested a number of the demonstrators Tuesday (July 18) on charges of “crowding, obstructing or incommoding.” Organizers said the 16 people taken into custody Tuesday were simply trying to raise awareness of what they said was unjust legislation.

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“Since all of these folk make a big deal about putting their hand on the Bible and swearing themselves into office, we’ve come to let them know what’s in the Bible,” said the Rev. William J. Barber II, a North Carolina pastor at the forefront of state and national protests focused on poverty and civil rights.

The event was organized by the National African American Clergy Network, the Ecumenical Poverty Initiative and several other anti-poverty groups and churches. They held meetings with members of Congress, speeches outside the Capitol and civil disobedience — protesting inside the Senate office buildings.

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., appeared at the event, reiterating the point that black leaders will keep fighting the Trump administration.

U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters speaks to an ecumenical group of African-American clergy outside the U.S. Capitol on July 18, 2017. RNS photo by Madeleine Buckley

At last week’s march, Barber and other clergy members were arrested after protesting planned Medicaid cuts in the now-defunct Senate GOP health care bill.

Tuesday’s event was a response to a wider range of issues, from Housing Secretary Ben Carson’s controversial statements on slavery to cuts in President Trump’s budget for programs such as Meals on Wheels.

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The Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor of Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, said that while Trump asked the black community to give him a chance during the presidential election, his budget proposal showed his true priorities.

“A budget is not just a fiscal document. It is a moral document,” said Warnock, who was arrested and released after paying a fine. “It says something about the spiritual health of a people. And if this budget were an EKG, it would indicate that America has a serious heart condition.”

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The Rev. Leslie Copeland-Tune, director of the Ecumenical Poverty Initiative, said clergy would keep coming back to fight.

“We will be back knocking on the doors of Mitch McConnell and anybody else … who decides that they should rob the poor just because they are poor,” she said.

READ: In the fight to preserve health care, we have to lay our bodies on the line

The protesters also campaigned through social media, encouraging attendees to use the hashtags #BlackClergyUprising and #BlackClergyVoices.

The event was originally organized to also protest the Senate’s GOP health care bill, but support for that bill collapsed Monday night.