August 16th, 2011
12:38 PM ET
By the CNN Wire Staff
(CNN) - The latest voice in the debate over Alabama's tough new anti-illegal immigration law - considered the most restrictive in the nation - comes not from the usual activists but from a more traditionally conservative group: church leaders.
Leaders from the Episcopal, Methodist and Catholic churches of Alabama sued the state's governor, its attorney general and a district attorney this month over the law, which is to go into effect September 1.
One of the plaintiffs, Episcopal Bishop Henry Parsley Jr., said Tuesday that religious leaders were worried over a provision in the law that will make transporting or harboring unauthorized immigrants a crime.
"The Bible is clear that we are supposed to love the stranger and welcome the aliens," Parsley said. "And we feel that this law could make some of our ministries criminal activities."
Supporters of the law say it is ludicrous to imagine that a religious leader or church member would be arrested for giving a hand to those in the country illegally.
But the lawsuit states that the law is vague and does not make it clear what activities fall under the scope of the restrictions.
According to the lawsuit, "churches will perpetrate crimes by knowingly providing food, clothing, shelter and transportation to those in need without first ensuring compliance with the stipulations of the anti-immigration law. Moreover, the ministry of the churches, by providing such services to known undocumented persons, is criminalized under this law."
Another argument the church leaders make is that if compliance with the law means ascertaining people's immigration status, it would represent an infringement of their rights.
"We feel it would interfere with our freedom of expression, of our faith, and living our faith and caring for others," Parsley said.
Parsley was joined in the suit by Methodist Bishop William Willimon and two Catholic leaders, Archbishop Thomas Rodi and Bishop Robert Baker.
"I'm afraid this is a phony issue," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports the law.
"The opponents of enforcing immigration law and supporters of amnesty for illegal immigrants are using this as an emotional issue, raising this phony idea that a nun ladling out soup to an illegal alien is going to be wrestled to the ground by a SWAT team," he said.
No one, including the plaintiffs, believes that a priest or nun would be arrested for carrying out their religious duties, he said.
Human smugglers are the target of the provisions on transporting and harboring unauthorized immigrants, not the clergy, Krikorian said.
Citing the Bible to argue against the law "is a pernicious use of scripture," he said.
Indeed, the lawsuit cites scripture to make its point.
"If enforced, the law will place Alabama church members in the untenable position of verifying individuals' immigration documentation before being able to follow God's word to 'love thy neighbor as thyself,' " the lawsuit states.
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