Priest pleads guilty to trespassing in war protest – Rev. Lewis says he would do it again

A local Episcopal priest, charged with trespassing for staging a sit-in at Rep. Shelley Moore Capito’s office to protest the Iraq war, was sentenced Wednesday to a $50 fine or one day of community service.

The Rev. Jim Lewis, wearing his clerical collar, perched his glasses on the end of his nose to read a statement to Charleston Municipal Judge Shawn Taylor before his sentencing.

At first, he said, he and four other Patriots for Peace members were waiting in Capito’s office Feb. 16 to pray over a vote she was casting that day – a House resolution opposing President Bush’s plan to send 21,500 troops to Iraq.

They waited for six hours, he said. Then one of Capito’s aides told them the vote was done. The resolution passed, but Capito had voted against it.

Lewis decided to keep waiting, alone, for an explanation.

After 10 hours, at about 7:30 p.m., three Charleston police officers came to remove him, he said.

“I want to commend the city of Charleston police who escorted me from Rep. Capito’s office,” he said. “They were in every way courteous and professional.

“I want to apologize for any trouble, inconvenience or anxiety I may have caused the staff at Rep. Capito’s office.”

But he’d do it again, Lewis said after his sentencing. Lewis originally pleaded not guilty, but after Taylor explained he wouldn’t be able to make his statement until the bench trial in that case, Lewis changed his plea to guilty.

Afterward, Lewis gave on-camera interviews to TV news crews in the hallway outside the courtroom, surrounded by about 15 people wearing blue “Patriots for Peace” buttons and his counsel, South Charleston Mayor Richie Robb, who in 2005 successfully pushed a city resolution calling for an end to the war.

He held a letter from the Rev. W. Michie Klusmeyer, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia, strongly supporting Lewis’s sit-in as following church tenets.

“The war in Iraq does not meet the ‘Just War’ criteria the church has followed since the 7th century,” Klusmeyer wrote.

Lewis said Patriots for Peace wants to organize a town hall meeting with Capito.

“We want Ms. Capito to come back to Charleston and explain her inconsistencies on this vote,” he told a TV reporter, as a handcuffed woman in an orange jumpsuit and a neck tattoo squeezed past the crowd with a police officer.

Another officer, manning the metal detector in the hallway, ordered the Patriots for Peace to “Keep it down!” when they began to whistle and applaud Lewis.

Robb asked him if he was the officer Taylor had said to speak to in the hallway about Lewis’ community service.

“If he wants to ride on the trash truck, that’s fine,” the officer replied.