NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A group of ministers from across Tennessee knelt in the middle of an intersection in Nashville’s tourist district Monday, blocking the street as they prayed for equality and justice.
The protest was one of many across the country challenging the right of religious conservatives to define morality.
It began with a rally on the steps of the state Capitol that happened to coincide with the first day of a specially called three-day legislative session. About 150 people gathered, including home health workers, fast food workers and custodians demanding a $15-an-hour minimum wage as lawmakers filed past.
State Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, addressed the crowd saying lawmakers had been warned to look out for protesters.
“This is the people’s house, and it’s time for it to do the people’s business,” he told the crowd.
Thelma Rimmer said she has worked as a custodian at the University of Memphis for 10 years and makes $10.30 an hour.
“Sometimes I have to decide whether to pay the light bill or to buy food, sometimes even rent,” she said. “I want to make a wage where I am able to send my children to college, too.”
The Rev. Andre E. Johnson, with Gift of Life Ministries in Memphis, was one of several ministers at the rally who delivered a petition to Gov. Bill Haslam’s office demanding solutions to issues like persistent poverty and inequality.
“It’s not only unjust; it’s a sin,” he said.
Johnson said many lawmakers feel God called them to serve. “We just want to make sure they’re hearing from the right God,” he said.
After the rally, the group marched to Broadway where they blocked an intersection. The ministers kneeled in the middle of the road while other demonstrators joined hands in a circle around them. They prayed as tourists looked on from nearby honky-tonks, country music blaring into the street.