Seven religious leaders opposed to cuts in human services and anti-union provisions of the proposed state budget were recently escorted from the State House by police after a five and a half hour prayer vigil at the office of Speaker of the House William O’Brien.
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Click here for a video of the prayer vigil.
The religious leaders will return to the State House Thursday morning to continue their vigil, while the House continues its consideration of the budget.
The vigil began shortly after 2 PM, when the group, Voices of Faith for a Humane Budget, arrived at the Speakers office and announced their intention to begin a prayer vigil. As Rev. Bill Exner, of St. Matthews Episcopal Church in Goffstown, prayed and read from the book of Isaiah, a member of the Speaker’s staff and State House Security ordered the group to leave the office.
For the next five and a half hours the group sat in the hallway outside the office, where they shared prayers, songs, periods of silence, and discussion of the many issues at stake in the state budget debate. Members of the group decried the impact of the proposed budget on the state’s most vulnerable residents and its public employees.
Following the House vote in favor of House Bill 2, which contained provisions limiting collective bargaining rights and lessening the responsibility of cities and towns to care for their neediest residents, the vigil concluded with a song and a prayer for public sector workers. State Troopers stood nearby, and then proceeded to escort the vigilers from the building.
In a letter delivered to the Speaker’s office Tuesday afternoon, the group said “In recent weeks we have closely followed discussions and debates over the state budget. As people who believe in loving our neighbors, and as people who believe that we are unambiguously responsible to advocate for and serve those who are most vulnerable among us, we are deeply troubled by the dramatic cuts in funds for essential services contained in the budget proposal, which will be before the House on Wednesday and Thursday.”
“In addition,” the letter said, “we are in profound distress over proposals to lessen the responsibilities of communities to care for those most in need and to undermine the collective rights of those who serve our communities as teachers, firefighters, public safety officers, and other public servants.”
In addition to Rev. Exner, participants in the prayer vigil included
Rev. Dr. Mary Westfall, Pastor of the Community Church of Durham; Rev. Dr. Frank Irvine, of Concord, a retired United Church of Christ pastor; Gregory Heath, of Canterbury, co-clerk Concord Friends Meeting (Quaker), and a member of the Oxbow Zen Sangha, a Canterbury based Buddhist group; Mark Barker, of Boscawen, a member of Concord Friends Meeting (Quaker);Arnie Alpert, of Canterbury, the New Hampshire Program Coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee;L. R. Berger, of Contoocook, Northeast Regional Associate, Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service; Barbara French, a member of the Henniker Congregational Church, who had to leave at 4:30 PM.
Rev. Kendra Ford of the Exeter Unitarian Universalist Church joined the vigil for about two hours.