Former Delaware County congressman Bob Edgar and 10 other religious leaders were arrested by Capitol police in Washington, D.C., Thursday afternoon after they knelt to pray in the Capitol Rotunda to protest proposed cuts to social services.

Edgar, 68, a United Methodist minister who now heads the nonpartisan watchdog group Common Cause, was handcuffed with plastic binding, searched and taken into custody at about 1 p.m., said Mary Boyle, a spokeswoman for the group.

"The point is to call on Congress, to essentially pray for Congress to have the wisdom and insight not to balance the budget on the backs of America's poor and middle class," Boyle said. "Don't cut programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security that your neediest citizens rely on."

The arrests come as the debt-ceiling impasse draws nearer to the Aug. 2 deadline.

Edgar, who represented Pennsylvania's Seventh Congressional District from 1975 until 1987, said he was inspired to perform the act of civil disobedience by a visit this week from an old friend, John Raines, a former Freedom Rider.

In an interview Wednesday, Edgar said the visit reminded him of the power of civil disobedience and the need for Americans to do more than just talk or get angry.

"Why get arrested? Why not more rallies and protests and petitions?" Edgar wrote in a blog post Thursday morning. "Because it is time to move beyond words to actions. I take as my guiding thought today these words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

'We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.' "

Capitol police issued the group several warnings before standing them up one at a time to arrest them, Boyle said. Each person was patted down, handcuffed, searched and had their shoes removed, she said.

Edgar brought toothbrushes for his colleagues.

That's in case they are jailed overnight - though Boyle said she believed they'd be sprung in a few hours. Each will need to post $50 to get out. They are being charged with obstructing visitors' access to the Capitol.

For more on Edgar, see his interview on the InPolitics page of Thursday's Inquirer: http://ow.ly/5PnPq

Contact staff writer Joelle Farrell at jfarrell@phillynews.com, 856-779-3237 or @joellefarrell on Twitter.