An Episcopal priest is barred from ministering to inmates at the Mecklenburg County jail because she was arrested during a “Moral Monday” protest at the state legislature.
“It was like a slap in the face,” said the Rev. Jane Holmes. “I love doing what I’m doing.”
Reverend Jane, inmates called her.
She is 72, a retired accountant who was ordained in 2004 and helps minister to 31 Episcopal churches and hospital patients.
Holmes was arrested on the evening of June 3 in the halls of the General Assembly building in Raleigh. Back home in Charlotte the next morning, she got a call from the chaplains’ office for the jail. She said she was told that her clergy privileges were being revoked because of her arrest and that she needed to return her badges immediately.
Asked why Holmes is barred as a jail chaplain, a spokesperson for Sheriff Chipp Bailey said in a statement: “The sheriff absolutely supports a person’s right to peacefully protest their convictions. However, he will not allow a person who is an employee or volunteer representing the sheriff or his office to willfully disobey a legal directive given by a law enforcement officer and get arrested.
“It is disrespectful to the badge and authority of law enforcement officers across the state. He and citizens hold Sheriff’s Office employees to a higher standard and expect all to obey the law.”
Said Holmes: “What I did had absolutely nothing to do with the Mecklenburg County jail.”
Like other protesters who have rallied at the legislature on Monday evenings for 10 weeks, Holmes believes Republican-led policies will harm North Carolina, including laws cutting benefits to the unemployed, restricting voting, and refusing federal Medicaid money for the working poor.
Holmes said she and her husband, Hartley La Duke, moved from Maine to Charlotte six years ago in part because they heard North Carolina was a progressive state that stands up for “love, justice, freedom and equality for all God’s children.”
She no longer feels so sure about that.
“The more I thought about it, I thought this governor is trying to push North Carolina back into the ’60s and that’s not right,” Holmes said. “As Christians, we are supposed to be supporting one another. We’re supposed to be protecting the poor, also respecting the stranger ... and loving our neighbors.”
She had not planned on being arrested. But she felt she had nothing to lose, unlike college-aged students or single parents who might face repercussions if they were arrested. So when officers at the legislature demanded that protesters disperse, Holmes stayed.
More than 700 people have been arrested in weekly protests since March. Most were charged with disorderly conduct, trespassing and violating building rules.
Observers say some of those charged were exercising First Amendment rights, behaving no differently than protesters from past years who were not arrested. That has raised concerns about whether Republican leaders are directing more aggressive enforcement against citizens who disagree with their agenda.
“I believe we have a great police force here,” House Democratic Leader Larry Hall, a lawyer from Durham, told The Associated Press. “Now, who do they work for? They work for whoever is in the majority in the House and the Senate, who are responsible for the messages sent to them from the top.”
General Assembly police Chief Jeff Weaver told the AP that he was offended by suggestions that his officers’ actions are influenced by partisanship.
“We have never had the disruptions at this facility that we have had this year, and the amount of people in these disruptions,” Weaver said. “…When you’re blocking ingress and egress, clapping and singing, that’s disruptive.”
Republican officials have been dismissive of the protests. State Sen. Thom Goolsby, a Wilmington Republican, derided them as “Moron Mondays” and said participants are “clowns” and “mostly white, angry, aged former hippies.” Gov. Pat McCrory called the protesters “outsiders,” though records show nearly all come from North Carolina.
Nonviolent confrontation was a major component of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, and state NAACP President William Barber defends the strategy that has made national news. The NAACP, which spearheaded the demonstrations, is coordinating volunteer attorneys to represent people arrested.
Holmes said her court date is Sept. 18 and she hopes the charge will be expunged. Since she became a chaplain last fall, she said she has given communion to women in jail and baptized others.
Her hope, she said, is to one day again offer incarcerated women the spiritual guidance they deserve.
The Associated Press contributed.
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