Alabama's Pro-Illegal Immigration Litigating Bishops

david at david at
Fri Aug 26 09:39:54 EDT 2011

Alabama's Pro-Illegal Immigration Litigating Bishops

by Mark D. Tooley 
August 17th, 2011

Four Alabama bishops are opposing Alabama's new law against facilitating illegal immigration. In their litigation, they align with similar lawsuits from the Obama Administration and the American Civil Liberties Union, which apparently also dispute the rights of states to act against illegal immigration.

Even The New York Times, in an August 13 article, seemed a little surprised by the religious forces against Alabama's new immigration law.

The 4 religious litigants are two Catholic bishops, an Episcopal bishop, and a United Methodist bishop. Perhaps their moral case would be stronger if they explained what legal efforts against illegal immigration are acceptable. But in fact, many religious opponents of immigration law enforcement oppose any meaningful restrictions on immigration. The Episcopal Church's House of Bishops, along with the United Methodist Church's Council of Bishops, has virtually called for unrestricted immigration as a Christian mandate.

Just as the Religious Left demands an unlimited federal Welfare and Entitlement State with a cornucopia of benefits for all U.S. persons, so they largely insist these fathomless benefits also must be open to any global person who can reach U.S. shores.

Last year, the Episcopal Church's bishops, meeting in Arizona in implicit protest against that state's anti-illegal immigration law, indignantly declared: "We categorically reject efforts to criminalize undocumented migrants and immigrants, and deplore the separation of families and the unnecessary incarceration of undocumented workers. Since, as we are convinced, it is natural to seek gainful employment to sustain oneself and one's family, we cannot agree that the efforts of undocumented workers to feed and shelter their households through honest labor are criminal."

In other words, virtually no immigration should be illegal, except for, as they grudgingly, admitted: "drug traffickers," "terrorists," and undefined "other criminals." Otherwise, apparently, the doors must remain wide open at all times, as "our gracious welcome of immigrants, documented or undocumented, is a reflection of God's grace poured out on us and on all."

The United Methodist bishops were even more adamant, declaring in 2010 that "welcoming the sojourner is so vital to the expression of Christian faith that to engage in this form of hospitality is to participate in our own salvation." Protestants traditionally believe in salvation by faith, but the Methodist bishops seemed to propose salvation by immigration activism, insisting "we experience redemptive liberation through relationships with migrants in our communities." These Methodist bishops reluctantly admitted that "all nations have the right to secure their borders" while deriding U.S. border control as "militarization." They further intoned: "The solidarity we share through Christ eliminates the boundaries and barriers which exclude and isolate."

It is true that Christians, through The Church, see themselves as the universal Body of Christ, unified through all eternity by common faith, transcending all cultures and nations. But the vocation and definition of The Church are quite different from the responsibilities of civil governments, which have duties towards particular people, and which must "exclude" some to defend others.

Only in Alabama have church prelates gone to court to stop enforcement of immigration law. The New York Times noted the politics here are "unusual, with those opposed to the law, mostly coming from the left, arguing that the statute falls short of biblical principles, and the law's supporters, mostly from the right, arguing that secular laws and biblical law cannot always run on the same track."

Alabama's new law, which the Times described as "popular," allows police to ask about immigration status during traffic violations. It also prohibits transporting, harboring, making contracts with, or renting property to illegals. Anxious for a pretext to oppose, the litigating church officials and their allies protest that the law will criminalize their ministry of offering meals, counseling or rides to all. As the Times fairly noted, the law's defenders say it aims at human traffickers and employers, not at church soup kitchens, or Sunday school teachers driving to the doctor's office. The church litigators disingenuously claim they must now choose between God and Caesar. Other clerics of course cite Martin Luther King.

They naturally want to claim the moral drama of 1960's era civil rights advocates. But the modern clerics are not likely targets of police dogs or fire hoses. "I do not think that any church or any clergyman is subject to prosecution for doing their Christian mission," explained one state legislator defending the new law to the Times. Transporting illegals only becomes illegal if "in furtherance of  unlawful presence." And "harboring" an illegal violates the new law only when deliberating shielding from detection. Do the litigating bishops expect their churches to go beyond ministry and to actively help illegals evade the law? Aren't Christians supposed to comply with civil law unless it promotes an egregious evil?

"Alabama needs to sit this one out," warned litigating United Methodist Bishop William Willimon of Birmingham. "The civil rights memorial in Birmingham is kind of a reminder that we've got to watch this sort of thing," he told The New York Times. Should all states, and the federal government, "sit out" any enforcement of immigration law? The Religious Left and its allies insist so.

America welcomes about 1 million new legal immigrants to the U.S. ever year in what is the world's most generous immigration policy. But even tripling or quadrupling this number would not appease most Religious Left opponents, who oppose any national sovereignty for the U.S. The New York Times, more equitable than the sometimes shrill prelates it quoted, reported that Alabama church members seem to endorse what the litigating bishops reject. They must intuit the oddity of bishops suing the government for performing its vocation to defend and protect.

---- Mark Tooley is President of the Institute on Religion and Democracy ( and author of "Taking Back the United Methodist Church." 

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