Riot gear-clad police broke in the back door of the Trinity Lutheran Church early today in suburban Clairton, ending a nine-day siege and arresting seven activists who had defied court orders to surrender the church to Lutheran officials.
An eighth activist who had been in the church surrendered later and appeared with the other seven in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court. Four were sentenced to 60-day jail terms for refusal to turn over control of their working-class parish to its governing Lutheran Synod. Sentencing for the others was postponed until Monday.
"If one announces the intention to defy an order of the court, one must accept the consequences . . . ," Judge Emil Narick told the dissidents. "To do otherwise would make a mockery of the law and invite anarchy."
Those arrested were supporters of Trinity's jailed pastor, D. Douglas Roth, who preached against "corporate evil" on behalf of unemployed steelworkers.
Roth, who has been in jail since Nov. 13 on a 90-day, contempt-of-court sentence for defying Narick's order that he obey his bishop and step down as Trinity's pastor, also appeared in court today and was sentenced to an additional 60 days.
Narick said Roth had violated his earlier court order in part by sending taped "sermons from jail" that were played at Trinity services.
Shortly before dawn today, about 50 county sheriff's deputies surrounded the 56-year-old stone church and broke in a wooden door at the rear.
Inside, deputies confiscated baseball bats and gas masks in the basement. The deputies said the protesters offered no resistance. No injuries were reported.
No sooner had deputies chained the church doors and posted "No Trespassing" signs than supporters of the activists vowed to continue their controversial campaign. Roth is one of a dozen ministers affiliated with the Denominational Ministry Strategy (DMS), a controversial church-labor coalition whose tactics have drawn national attention to the decline of the U.S. steel industry.
"This is going to continue to be a battleground," said Ron Weisen, president of a 1,200 steelworkers union local. "Maybe we will take the church back over."
"We will continue to battle Pittsburgh's corporate elite as long as their decisions are destroying families" by laying off steelworkers in the hard-hit Monongahela Valley, said the Rev. John Gropp, who had been in the barricaded church but left shortly before today's raid. He was not arrested.
Today's events are the most publicized in a controversial two-year campaign in greater Pittsburgh by church and union activists who blame U.S. Steel Corp., Mellon Bank and other area institutions for speeding the decline of the steel industry by investing in more profitable enterprises elsewhere.
Controversy has intensified because of the unorthodox tactics of DMS and its affiliated labor group, the Network to Save the Mon-Ohio Valley. Supporters have deposited dead fish in bank safe-deposit boxes, disrupted church services and thrown skunk oil into bank branches and a church.
Those arrested today included Roth's wife, Nadine; the Rev. William Rex, a Lutheran minister, and Paul Brandt, an unemployed shipbuilder. The two men, arraigned on seven misdemeanor counts, were accused of being the masked figures who lobbed balloons filled with skunk-scented water and dye at families sharing a Christmas dinner at an affluent Presbyterian church.
Officials for U.S. Steel and Mellon Bank have refused to comment on the dissidents' activities; Pittsburgh city officials have condemned the actions as tarnishing the image of the city when it is seeking new businesses.
In another development today, Narick denied a request from the Phil Donahue television show to interview Roth, who previously was interviewed for a segment on "60 Minutes."
Lawyers for Lutheran Bishop Kenneth R. May, who fired Roth in October and later dissolved his congregation, asked Narick to prevent Roth from running a "media circus" from jail.
Narick responded: "We cannot permit the jail to become a platform for someone who has willfully defied the court's orders."