July 14th, 2010
02:11 PM ET

Congress debates biblical stance on immigration

Congress tackled the role of religion and ethics in the politically explosive immigration debate Wednesday as biblical passages and church doctrines were invoked during a heated discussion of various reform proposals.

The argument exposed a sharp philosophical divide on an issue that has taken center stage in the wake of Arizona's passage of a controversial law designed to crack down on illegal immigration.

"We are so far apart philosophically," one Democratic congresswoman said, that it's hard to see how a middle ground can be found.

The debate occurred during a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing featuring Richard Land, a leader of the Southern Baptist Convention; Bishop Gerald Kicanas from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Mathew Staver, dean of the Liberty University law school; and James Edwards Jr., a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies.

"Immigration is ultimately a humanitarian issue since it impacts the basic rights and dignity of millions of persons and their families," Kicanas said. "As such, it has moral implications, especially how it impacts the basic survival and decency of life experienced by human beings like us. ... Our current immigration system fails to meet the moral test of protecting the basic rights and dignity of the human person."

Kicanas, who is bishop of the Catholic archdiocese in Tucson, Arizona, noted that thousands of men, women and children have died in the desert over the past decade trying to cross from Mexico into the United States.

The current law has to be changed, he said. "Because of a broken system, immigrant families are being separated. Migrant workers are subject to
exploitation by unscrupulous employers, and those attempting to find work by
coming north are being abused and taken advantage of by human smugglers."

Most illegal migrants are coming "not for nefarious purposes," but to reconnect with family members or find work, he asserted. "Church teaching acknowledges and upholds the right of a nation to control its borders. (But) it is our view that the best way to secure our southern border is through (comprehensive) immigration reform."

But Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, the Judiciary Committee's top Republican, repeatedly cited passages from the Bible in support of a stronger crackdown on illegal immigration.

"The Bible contains numerous passages that support the rule of law," he asserted. "The scriptures clearly indicate that God charges civil authorities
with preserving order, protecting citizens and punishing wrongdoers."

Smith cited, among other things, Romans 13: "Let every person be subject to governing authorities."

He also noted a passage from Leviticus: "When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong." This, he contended, does not imply that "foreigners should disregard civil laws to enter (the country) or that we should overlook it when they do."

Addressing a passage from Matthew 25 about caring for "the least of these my brothers," Smith contended that it "advocates individual acts of kindness (but) does not mandate a public policy."

"Americans need not repent for wanting to uphold the rule of law and provide jobs for legal workers," he said. "A truly Christian moral approach would be not to acquiesce to illegal immigration, but to work to end it."

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois, argued that the government is fundamentally "a reflection of who we are," and that there should therefore be little distinction between individual and governmental roles.

"Focus on (the undocumented) families" at the center of the debate, he said. "Let's focus on the human beings."

Iowa GOP Rep. Steve King, however, complained that for many reform advocates the only "biblically acceptable option ... seems to be open borders."

"I didn't realize that the Bible barred the enforcement of immigration laws and neither did I realize that it erased borders, demanded pathways to citizenship for illegal immigrants, or ... forbid the leaders of a nation from caring most about the well-being of its own citizens."

King noted approvingly that "in the land of the Bible the leaders of today's Israel (have) built border fences to protect their citizens from terrorists or illegal job seekers alike."

There is a "greater and more immediate" moral obligation to take care of
U.S. citizens first, he said.

Land asserted that while "we have a crisis," it is not insurmountable.

"I believe that Congress can and should devise a plan to bring (illegal immigrants) out of the shadows. The more protracted the delay in action the more severe the problem will become." Arizona's law is a "symptom" and a "cry for help ... because the federal government has not done its duty" to control the border.

"Some people would argue that it's immoral to enforce our nation's laws," he argued. "I don't think it's fair and I don't think it's right." But once the border is secured, "I believe we have to have a six- to nine-month grace period for people who are here in an undocumented status to come forward, to register, to agree to pay fines, to pay back taxes, to undergo a background check, to learn to read, write (and) speak English, to pass a test that they've done so, and (to) go to the back of the line so that they are not being rewarded."

Turning to conservative critics of the current reform effort, Land said that he does "not believe that you can strain the English language into saying that is amnesty."

CNN's Alan Silverleib and the CNN Wire Staff contributed to this report

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Politics

soundoff (624 Responses)
  1. Timothy

    Why are congressman trying to use theology to decide this? A debate using bible verses or any other religious arguments has no place in our political dialog period.

    July 15, 2010 at 5:01 am |
  2. Erich

    What is it about illegal that people don't get? Illegal means against the law. We don't need to fix Mexico, Mexicans need to fix Mexico. We don't need to let them all come here because they want to, it's OUR country so we get to decide who stays and who doesn't.

    As far as the religious debate is concerned all religious officials should be banned from any government meeting. They should not be allowed to influence any government decision one way or another. SEPARATION between church and State means they can have no influence on one another. The government can't tell you how to pray or believe, and religions can NOT be responsible for shaping national policy. If we allow that we leave our selves open to becoming a religious dictatorship. I believe in the Constitution, we need to dust off a copy and remember what it says. The founding fathers put great time and effort into it for a reason. It's there to follow and defend, not twist, go around or change because FOREIGN countries and people don't like it. They don't like it because they are jealous. We need to worry about Americans first and stop letting OUR COUNTRY go down the toilet because we want other countries to like us, or because we are scared of terrorists. We have the freedom of speech here which means I have the constitutional right to publish images of Muhammad. Our government is violating our rights because they are scared. Is that what America is now? The scared pacifist nation that allows others to do what they want as long as they don't threaten or hurt us?

    July 15, 2010 at 4:40 am |
  3. Charles W. Skinner

    Does the proposed law require illegal (undocumented) aliens to go home before being considered for citizenship? Does it require them to go to jail? If not, then it's amnesty, Mr. Land. That's just about as simple as it gets.

    July 15, 2010 at 4:34 am |
  4. Jonathan

    Christianity has no place in this debate, nor does any religion in any political debate. We blast the Islamic theocracies of the world while we build our very own Christian theocracy right here at home. It is absolutely ludicrous that we are making decisions based on personal faith in a make-believe spiritual being. If any of these blinded lunatics had any sense, they would be prosecuting the Catholic Church for allowing its "chosen leaders" to molest children and covering it up. This has nothing to do with following the laws like "good Christians" do. It has everything with manipulative politicians playing off the fears of ignorant bigoted voters. The wages won't change because corporations will and do outsource out of the country. You have a choice between having the jobs filled by foreigners in America or foreigners outside of America. Don't go after the immigrants, go after the corrupt politicians and money mongers who run this country. And for the sake of all of us, leave religion out of it. Go live in Iran if you want to be governed by God.

    July 15, 2010 at 4:29 am |
  5. Peter

    For the last time: American never was, and still is not a christian nation. The treaty of Tripoli spells this out in no uncertain terms: "Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion..." Nor were the "Founding Fathers" a very Christian group, most of them were Freemasons, and left Europe to avoid persecution by the Christians there. Here are a few quotes to back up that statement:
    "As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed?" – John Adams (2nd President of America)
    "Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man," – Thomas Jefferson (3rd President, and writer of the Declaration of Independance
    "Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise." – James Madison (4th President, and main author of the Constitution)
    "Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law." – Thomas Jefferson (again)
    That being said, please remove your Bible from our Congress. I'm not saying that there weren't a few good ideas that caome from that book (thou shall not lie/steal/kill), but those ideas are pretty universal among world religions, and universally ignored.
    On the issue of immigration: we are all immigrants or their descendants, even the Native Americans, though their forefathers caught the early bus. The difference is, that my family came through the front door, registered with the door man, and has played by the rules ever since. Granted, the rules have changed since then, and it isn't as easy as it used to be. Back then, we had a lot of land to fill, and needed some hands to build this nation. Now we have the opposite problem. Not that we have run out of land, but we are getting pretty crowded in here; our classrooms, highways, prisons, hospitals and cities are all very crowded now. So Congress is working on a solution, or so they say. But what good are new rules going to do if we never enforce the rules? The single most ridiculous thing about AZ1070, is that it is a law that requires the police to enforce the other laws that are already on the books! But then this congressional debate won't get anywhere while they are arguing over which version of the bible to use.
    What is the opposite of PROgress?

    July 15, 2010 at 4:11 am |
  6. beezers

    I am an independent conservative and believe that we should have open borders... BUT, I also believe that we should get rid of most welfare programs so the system isn't overrun by immigrant needy. Yes, whoever wants to come here can do so, and if we're talking about the Bible in regard to immigration we should also understand that churches can help immigrants get on their feet much better than the government. There are many charitable Americans who will do much better through churches and charitable organizations if the government will only give them the chance. Our welfare system places the burden on taxpayers rather than the good of humanity.

    If Congress and our President want comprehensive immigration reform, I'm all for it as long as it's comprehensive enough in eliminating welfare for a more effective system.

    July 15, 2010 at 3:48 am |
  7. Rim

    When the bulk of our immigrants were German, Irish, English, and Italian we were a well liked, we were growing in a positive direction, we were respected, and we were extremely rich. Now that the bulk of immigrants (most illegal) are Mexican/south American we are hated, we are falling behind in the world in just about every important category like education, we are overpopulated, jobless rates are high, and our deficit is bigger than its ever been and seems to be growing exponentially. Let's throw ancient books and political correctness out the window and tell it how it is. Close our southern borders and deport those who are here illegally. The short term effects will be approved by Americans the long term effects will Applauded by our grandchildren.

    July 15, 2010 at 3:46 am |
  8. Steve

    The bible? religious text? what the hell happend to seperation of church and State? These descions should be based on logic and reason, not magic and pseudo science. This is we fail as a country in so many areas.

    July 15, 2010 at 3:26 am |
    • Charles W. Skinner

      The whole concept of the "separation of church and state" is based on a few paragraphs that Thomas Jefferson wrote in private letters to friends and colleagues. If we're going to give President Jefferson so much deference, you had better be willing to abolish the Federal Reserve, because Jefferson claimed much more strongly and publicly that "a central bank is a greater danger to the freedom of the people than foreign standing armies."

      July 15, 2010 at 4:37 am |
  9. thinkb4utype

    The forefathers intended our government to be secular, the main reason for this is because different people, depending on their background, can choose to interpret verses of the Bible to mean starkly different things. Just like in the South before the Civil War, clergy defended the act of slavery to appease the social environment of that time, while in the North, they knew it was morally unjust to own slaves. LEAVE THE BIBLE OR RELIGION OUT OF REAL WORLD DEBATES!!! Mankind is born with a moral compass that tells us don't kill or don't hurt others intentionally, religion is not necessary at all. We are capable of making rational decisions in our lives based on reason and our past experiences. True knowledge, not irrational beliefs, will save this country. This debate on immigration merely serves as a smoke screen created by the Republicans so that no one pays attention to the immoral practices they are supporting in America. Not one of them think Wall Street is doing anything wrong. They want to slash social security apart instead of defense because they make too much money and maintain control by having our country in a perpetual state of war. This two party election system has been corrupted to the core and we as a people need to wake up and realize that most of our current politicians are self-serving egomaniacs who have long ago stopped listening to the American public and now only heed the calls of corporate lobbyists and those willing to spend the most on their upcoming campaigns. What we can do as a people is support and push for INSTANT RUN OFF VOTING. This way we won't be afraid to vote for the dark horse, or independent candidate for fear of wasting our votes. The time is now to change this horrible predicament we find ourselves in. Open your minds.

    July 15, 2010 at 3:20 am |
    • Wake Up

      Many of you are ignorant of US Public Law 97-280. Please read it to better understand your national history.

      July 15, 2010 at 7:14 am |
  10. Oscar

    you want safe borders from cartels and violence, happy Mexicans living in mexico? STOP CONSUMING FREAKING COCAIN AMERICA!!

    July 15, 2010 at 3:12 am |
    • Jake Jones

      In a nation of laws, should the criteria for determining if an individual is a criminal be "have they really done something wrong" or "have they broken the law?" Regardless of the answer, the bible quotes you mentioned are a devastatingly clear rebuttal to the spurious reasoning of people like Rep. Lamar who cherry pick the bible to justify their personal ideologies.

      "You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether one of your brethren or one of the aliens who is in your land within your gates." I'd like to see a right wing Christian try to explain that one away. When they're at church they'll read stuff like this and nod their heads, but when it comes to public policy it quickly becomes apparent that they don't hold such sentiments at all. They seem even more hypocritical when you consider some of Jesus' famous sayings like the one about the eye of the camel and turning the other cheek. So whenever they start babbling about the bible I just laugh.

      July 15, 2010 at 8:02 am |
    • KH

      Actually from what I've read most of the drug cartels profits are from marijuana, because of higher demand, but I agree with your statement.

      July 15, 2010 at 8:49 am |
  11. alex

    Why does everyone hate immigrants so much? Sure I understand we have come to this country illegal and should have to pay penalties for it. But what about all those kids who were brought here against their will. I know many kids and young adults who were brought to this country, including me, at a very young age. Some who weren't even talking yet. Why do we have to pay d price that our parents committed. I been in america all my life since I was 1yr old I never been to mexico I don't even know what is like over there, and yet i am still consider an illegal. I went to school here K-12 wanted to go to a university but couldn't cause of my status. I can't even drive a car cause I can't get a license cause I'm consider illegal. I love america its a great country I build my life here. Even though I'm not in prison it sure feels like it. Going back to mexico is like starting all over again. Us young adults need help the most we need a reform or amnesty by congress cause like many young adults including me should have to pay the price our parents committed.

    July 15, 2010 at 3:00 am |
  12. KeepItReal

    You got it right, Jim.

    Many Christians who believe that this is a Christian nation are usually surprised to find out that the word "God" is not even mentioned in the Constitution (our governing document), and, the two times "religion" is mentioned, the word "NOT" is appended, as in: "Religion will NOT be a test for public office".

    That so many folks are ignorant of this, is surprising.

    Thankfully, our Forefathers (many of whom were religious) realized that a National religion would be anathema to a nation whose purpose for existence is equal rights and justice, the pursuit of happiness, and, the right of all citizens to be free from Government mandated belief. This is what they were fleeing. Why would they want to implement it?

    So, this is reality: The word "God" is not in the Constitution, and, religion, when mentioned at all is restricted by the word "NO".

    If this is a Christian nation as some suggest, why didn't they put it in the Constitution?

    You are guaranteed the right to worship what you wish, but, they sure as hell didn't want a Christian nation, mandated by the Government.

    If you disagree, WHY isn't "God" mentioned in the Constitution?

    This simple question is usually answered by avoiding it, and, pretending as if the Declaration of Independence is the legal blueprint for our Nation.

    It isn't.

    So, again.......if this is a Christian Nation as many espouse, why wasn't it put in our Constitution?

    Did they just forget?

    July 15, 2010 at 2:49 am |
  13. David

    Christian and Jewish stupid fictions have no place in government chambers. Christianity, Judiasm and Islam are blights on this planet and have been damaging humanity for over 2000 years. Can you image the progress the world would have made without this nonsense clouding people's minds.

    July 15, 2010 at 2:37 am |
  14. malik

    Issues and feeling aside, the Bible has no place in this argument. We live in a country where there is (or is meant to be) a strong separation of church and state. There is no reason Bible passages should be considered valid or logical arguments for that reason. It has nothing to do with ones beliefs or lack there of. It has to do with the fact the Bible has no place in the argument of law. The separation or church and state is a fundamental part of our society, despite what is going on.

    July 15, 2010 at 2:37 am |
  15. Josh

    Jim, only 2 of them were. the rest were all Christian. Get your facts right man. sources are quotes from them.
    Samuel Adams
    Father of the American Revolution, Signer of the Declaration of Independence

    I . . . recommend my Soul to that Almighty Being who gave it, and my body I commit to the dust, relying upon the merits of Jesus Christ for a pardon of all my sins.

    Charles Carroll
    Signer of the Declaration of Independence

    On the mercy of my Redeemer I rely for salvation and on His merits; not on the works I have done in obedience to His precepts.

    William Cushing
    First Associate Justice Appointed by George Washington to the Supreme Court

    Sensible of my mortality, but being of sound mind, after recommending my soul to Almighty God through the merits of my Redeemer and my body to the earth . . .

    Will of William Cushing

    John Dickinson
    Signer of the Constitution

    Rendering thanks to my Creator for my existence and station among His works, for my birth in a country enlightened by the Gospel and enjoying freedom, and for all His other kindnesses, to Him I resign myself, humbly confiding in His goodness and in His mercy through Jesus Christ for the events of eternity.

    Will of John Dickinson

    hn Dickinson
    John Hancock
    Signer of the Declaration of Independence

    I John Hancock, . . . being advanced in years and being of perfect mind and memory-thanks be given to God-therefore calling to mind the mortality of my body and knowing it is appointed for all men once to die [Hebrews 9:27], do make and ordain this my last will and testament…Principally and first of all, I give and recommend my soul into the hands of God that gave it: and my body I recommend to the earth . . . nothing doubting but at the general resurrection I shall receive the same again by the mercy and power of God. . .

    Will of John Hancock

    Patrick Henry
    Governor of Virginia, Patriot

    This is all the inheritance I can give to my dear family. The religion of Christ can give them one which will make them rich indeed.

    John Jay
    First Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court

    Unto Him who is the author and giver of all good, I render sincere and humble thanks for His manifold and unmerited blessings, and especially for our redemption and salvation by His beloved son. He has been pleased to bless me with excellent parents, with a virtuous wife, and with worthy children. His protection has companied me through many eventful years, faithfully employed in the service of my country; His providence has not only conducted me to this tranquil situation but also given me abundant reason to be contented and thankful. Blessed be His holy name!

    Will of John Jay

    Daniel St. Thomas Jenifer
    Signer of the Constitution

    In the name of God, Amen. I, Daniel of Saint Thomas Jenifer . . . of dispossing mind and memory, commend my soul to my blessed Redeemer. . .

    Will of Daniel St. Thomas Jenifer

    Henry Knox
    Revolutionary War General, Secretary of War

    First, I think it proper to express my unshaken opinion of the immortality of my soul or mind; and to dedicate and devote the same to the supreme head of the Universe – to that great and tremendous Jehovah, – Who created the universal frame of nature, worlds, and systems in number infinite . . . To this awfully sublime Being do I resign my spirit with unlimited confidence of His mercy and protection . . .

    Will of Henry Knox

    John Langdon
    Signer of the Constitution

    In the name of God, Amen. I, John Langdon, . . . considering the uncertainty of life and that it is appointed unto all men once to die [Hebrews 9:27], do make, ordain and publish this my last will and testament in manner following, that is to say-First: I commend my soul to the infinite mercies of God in Christ Jesus, the beloved Son of the Father, who died and rose again that He might be the Lord of the dead and of the living . . . professing to believe and hope in the joyful Scripture doctrine of a resurrection to eternal life . . .

    Will of John Langdon

    This list goes on and on. In fact, only 2 of them were not Christian, or another denomination.

    July 15, 2010 at 2:23 am |
    • Frank Lynn


      Most men find God when they fear the end is near. All of your "quotes" (I see no specific references to historical dates, context or verifiable sources) sound as if they are from men who are preparing to meet their making and thus are padding their good Christian resume to save their souls. I have no doubt they all considered themselves pious.

      Where you have failed is in making the connection between their devotion to a higher source and their views on government. Most likely, this is because these men did not make that connection. When religion enters politics both fail. Our forefathers understood this. Everything done politically in the name of God stinks of hypocrisy, rots mankinds ability to find peace, prosperity or liberty, and does a disservice to all, including God. The men who fought for and organized this country and its laws believed that and set up our government accordingly.

      Tying religion to government is like attaching cement to oneself and plunging into the abyss. It will surely drag us to our demise. Taking words out of context is like providing the rope. Would you kill our nation in the name of God? I believe the above mentioned men would not.

      July 15, 2010 at 11:43 am |
  16. Josh

    Ok, First of all, when using bible verses, FINISH the VERSE please. The bible is very clear when it refers to others coming into your land. LOVE them, give them food, shelter, etc. Like Romans 13 for example, yes it says that. However, we live in the end of the age... you must follow laws, UNLESS it conflicts with GODS law. Treat everyone as your neighbor, that is not simply a suggestion, that's a law. Do you put up borders and shoot at your neighbor if he tries to come over? Or, if his house loses power, how would see him in the cold winter, suffer and die?

    This country was founded on Christianity, stop twisting his word around!

    July 15, 2010 at 2:12 am |
    • Jim TX

      Nope, it wasn't founded on Christianity. Not at all. Many of the Founding Fathers were not even Christian (many were Deists), and the "Christian values" are simply humanistic in nature. If it were meant to be a Christian Nation (TM) they would have set up a theocracy. Instead they specifically said not to mix religion and politics.

      July 15, 2010 at 2:18 am |
    • David

      Umm..I didn't twist any words around...this is a quote from the CNN article. A biblical verse read aloud by Rep. Lamar Smith R-TX. However I do agree that words are taken out of context. But quoting Leviticus? Leviticus is the most violent angry God book in the entire Bible, and it's the Old Testament.

      July 15, 2010 at 3:00 am |
  17. David

    "Let every person be subject tp governing authorites"......? Really......?

    July 15, 2010 at 2:12 am |
  18. KeepItReal

    Just for the record, there is no factual evidence that ANY of the godfigures mankind has created for himself exist anywhere but in the minds of those who freely choose to believe in them. It is truly amazing that so many folks are actually convinced that a "God" of some sort exists, and, can, even more incredibly, "say" or "decree" something.

    Fictional figures are incapable of such activities.

    Godfigures are the product of the minds of men. Therefore, they can't really "say" or "do" anything.

    Not trying to be mean to folks who have chosen to dabble in the supernatural, just stating reality.

    Also, to preempt the inevitable whining about "respecting" religion, all I can tell 'ya, is I have no reason, nor, desire, nor, obligation, to support anyone's choice to believe in their chosen spiritual fantasy, and, I sure don't have to respect it.

    My hobby is playing golf on Sundays. I do so religiously. God's name is often invoked. No need to respect me for it.

    It's just a hobby, and what I like to do on Sunday.

    Some folks like to go to Church. I play Golf.

    Both are honorable activities of equal importance.

    Sorry to interrupt. It was just getting a bit bizarre that folks actually think manmade godfigures can speak and make policy.

    They can't. They're fictional.

    Now that that's been taken care of,...........You were saying?


    July 15, 2010 at 2:08 am |
  19. TTommy

    Good Lord! Do our congressmen have time to debate the role of the Bible on immigration? Maybe they should take up the hot topic of the middle ages while they're at it. That is, how many angels can sit on the head of a pin?

    July 15, 2010 at 2:05 am |
  20. Jim TX

    Damn, I feel more and more like "holier than thou", imposing your beliefs on others, and everyone telling each other what some ancient text actually meant is becoming a part of American politics. Iran isn't looking so different after all. Scary. The Founding Fathers are rolling over in their graves. Oh wait, we whitewashed history here in Texas – they were all reverent christians...

    July 15, 2010 at 1:59 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.