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August 16th, 2011
12:38 PM ET

Alabama church leaders enter immigration law fray

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.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Alabama • Catholic Church • Christianity

soundoff (407 Responses)
  1. Bruce

    Just so you know, people: while being in this country without proper doc_u_mentation is technically illegal, it is most-certainly NOT a violent crime like murder or r@pe.

    So, stop comparing them already. They are not at all alike.

    (And I apologize for the crazy spelling because the aut0-m0d_er@t0r is quite unforgiving at times.)

    August 16, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
    • Billy Bob

      But if you're here illegally, and you commit a violent crime such as murder, doesn't that put part of the blame on those who allowed the illegal to be here? Kind of like handing them a gun, and then telling them to only use it for target practice when you know they won't. There's no way to properly manage illegal aliens. We know nothing about them. We can't control them with our police and prison systems, and we voluntarily let them sponge off of our already fragile economy and system. Wow, it sure sounds like a bad idea to me.

      August 16, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • Bruce

      "if you're here illegally, and you commit a violent crime such as murder, doesn't that put part of the blame on those who allowed the illegal to be here?"

      Umm... no. If you raised your son in your own home and he goes out and commits murder, that doesn't implicate you as responsible just because you "allowed the murderer" to be here.

      Are you seriously asking this question, or is this just clever satire?

      August 16, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
    • Hooligan

      One of the more popular claims by illegal immigration proponents is that those who enter the U.S. by breaking the law are invariably "hard-working" and "law-abiding" once they get here.

      That argument, however, has one major flaw. According to Justice Department statistics and the analysis of immigration experts, the "law-abiding" claim often isn't true.

      As Investors Business Daily reported in March 2005:

      "The U.S. Justice Department estimated that 270,000 illegal immigrants served jail time nationally in 2003. Of those, 108,000 were in California. Some estimates show illegals now make up half of California's prison population, creating a massive criminal subculture that strains state budgets and creates a nightmare for local police forces."

      August 16, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  2. CA_Gal

    Curches who support illegal aliens should have their tax exempt status revoked.

    August 16, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • aubrie

      I agree 100%

      August 16, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  3. Beth

    All retail auto dealers in Alabama were just notified by AL Dept of Revenue they would be charged with a felony if they sold a car to anyone who did not either have a photo ID issued by the AL Dept of Public Safety, or if the ID was from another of the 49 states, that state's ID "must have language printed on the face of the state ID that the person has provided proof of US citizenship or are otherwise lawfully present in the US." A copy of the ID must be kept on file. Everybody, in any state other than AL, look at your driver license. Is there such a statement on it? Otherwise, if you want to buy a car in AL, you must bring your birth certificate.

    August 16, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  4. Ken

    Fine, all churches should then be legally bound to any immigrants that they wish to sponsor into this country; and the church and its congregation should be legally responsible for, and pay for, any and all support and/or services that their sponsored immigrants require until the immigrants are self supporting AND they become LEGAL citizens of the United States.

    August 16, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • Flatsguide

      Wow, that's the best idea I have heard yet. Ever think about running for Prez? I damn sure would vote for you!

      August 16, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • Karin

      I so agree with you

      August 16, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
  5. Pedro A.

    JOHN 10:1-6 Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.

    I wonder, how come those pro-illegal aliens supporters aren't asking those law breakers, to follow the law and go back to their countries of origin, apply at the American embassy and wait their turn, just like I did and millions of other LEGAL IMMIGRANTS.

    August 16, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • steelrain0341

      Well put. Isn't it amazing how unbiased the Bible can be? Or even more amazing how the church leaders leading this lawsuit are quick to quote their scripture on their behalf, but maybe forgot to mention this one?

      August 16, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • aubrie

      Excellent scripture, and very appropriate in this case.....

      August 16, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
  6. jorge washiinsen

    It is all about money. Illegals are giving more to the church, have a bigger real family, not a drive by situation, and also bring their kids to church.Not very hard to understand they need church attendance to stay in business, and it is a business ,whether you like to think so or not.

    August 16, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  7. Publius Novus

    Although I am aware that pride is a sin, this makes me proud to be an Episcopalian. God bless the Episcopalians, Methodists, and Roman Catholics of Alabama. The only sad thing is the lack of courage of the Lutherans, UCC, and Baptists. We all know in our hearts what Jesus would do.

    August 16, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • Billy Bob

      Yeah – we do, because He told us. He said – "the poor you will always have with you, and you can help them anytime you want. But you will not always have Me." These guys aren't trying to make things better, but worse. He also told us to respect the authorities. These churches do all they can to undermine the authorities and water down the law, because they have some warped idea of what charity is. It's pathetic.

      August 16, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • Flatsguide

      If Jesus was here today, he would send them back too. Hopefully he'd help them walk back across thr Rio Grande.

      August 16, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
  8. Billy Bob

    Yup – all you people who are in favor of the social justice agenda of some of the churches in Alabama are the same people that would scream the loudest if your job was taken away by an illegal. That is...all of you who have jobs. Most of you probably don't, and you like it that way. Illegals working means you can stay out of a job, and continue to collect from the rest of us. If you're for someone taking your job away by getting around the law to do it, you're suspect. Don't advocate breaking the law.

    August 16, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • TommyTT

      Illegals aren't after my job. They tend to take the jobs nobody else wants.

      August 16, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • Billy Bob

      I don't believe they take the jobs nobody else wants. They work for $5 an hour, which is more like $25 and hour in their country. They usually work here, and send the money back to their country...a double whammy. The truth is that Americans can't survive on $5 an hour because they have to live in this economy. The illegals are making a lot more than the Americans given where they spend it. Besides, people not wanting to work is going to soon be a thing of the past...if it isn't already.

      August 16, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • TommyTT

      You don't believe they take the jobs nobody else wants. Is that why I see so many white busboys (not) and white garden crews (not)?

      August 16, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
    • Flatsguide

      Plus, they don't have to pay for their education, medical bills, food, housing, car insurance, or health care insurance, you do.

      August 16, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
    • Farmer John

      I have a job opening for someone to pick produce for minimum wage, perks are: you get to work outdoors in the hot sun all day, you get to build up your upper body strength by lifting heavy crates of produce, this is backbreaking work but the money is great!! Please bring your birth certificate to prove you were born here in the USA. Oh, and another job opening: Slaughter house employee. WHAT!!! No takers??

      August 16, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • Bruce

      Billy Bob, why do you blame these "illegals" for the $5/hour job they get from you? Somebody is paying them $5/hour. That's the problem.

      If the job is actually worth $25/hour to do, wouldn't the "free market" deliver $25/hour to everyone who does it? Where did capitalism disappear to? Why should the government get involved in the "free market" all the sudden?

      I thought you guys were conservatives...

      August 16, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • dd

      My husband worked for himself for 23 years until illegals were brought up from Maryland to take over his work. I say go for it Alabama!!!!!

      August 16, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • JohnR

      Not only do illegals tend not to take jobs anyone wants, but immigration in general doesn't "cost" jobs. The economy isn't some zero sum game with a set number of jobs. If it was, then yes, letting ANYONE in would hurt someone already here. But just look what happens in real economies. You are most likely to lose your job because others LOST theirs. You work in a store. The local factory closes down. A large segment of the store's customer base can't afford what they used to. The store makes less money and lets you and others go. You work somewhere along the automotive supply chain. People in general are losing jobs. They buy fewer cars. Car makers buy fewer parts. Goodbye job. On the other hand, some enterprising landscaper from South Asia comes in and hires a bunch a physical laborers who buy daily food and drink from the store you work in. Everyone does well enough to buy at least cheap cars. And so on. Employment tends to beget employment and unemployment tends to beget unemployment. Truly there are very few economic realities as robustly true as these.

      August 16, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • aubrie

      Tommy.... BOTH of my sons are in college and white boys... They both work part time to make ends meet and pay their way through collge... One is BINGO a bus boy and at Italian restaurant... and the other does landscaping in the hot sun.... So take your dribble and SHOVE IT!!!

      August 16, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • Farmer John

      What is the difference between jobs being outsourced to another country and jobs that are worked by illegals? Maybe if all the outsourced jobs were here in the USA, the unemployment would be next to nothing. We are hurting ourselves by letting big corporations and their million dollar bonus CEO's outsource our jobs!!

      August 16, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  9. zhongxin

    Ridiculous! Religious leaders for illegal aliens are outlaws completely ignoring the fact that aliens that enter our country illegally are breaking the law. I am a Christian but feel we need to expose the leaders in Christian churches in our country that are catering to the needs of immigrants entering our country illegally. They should, instead, support sending these lawbreakers back to their own country where they can stand in line like everybody else does and wait their turn to enter our country legally.

    August 16, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • TommyTT

      Religious leaders have a several thousand year old, highly honorable tradition of challenging laws that are cruel and bone-headed.

      August 16, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • Flatsguide

      The only thing these churches care about is the money. The more illegal aliens they keep from being deported, the more money for them.

      August 16, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
  10. Colin

    Who am I?

    I don't want to pay any taxes. No federal taxes, no state taxes. I want all my income to be tax free. I want that income not to come from my working to earn it, but from donations. In short, I want to live off the generosity of others. But, I want the right to use the courts that the taxpayers pay for to overturn a law the elected officials passed becuse I don't like it.

    Who am I?

    August 16, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • fred

      Atheist.org

      August 16, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • Flatsguide

      Obama?

      August 16, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
  11. clx

    Churches lock their doors at night. People, no matter how religious, cannot just walk into a church and stay for months, occupying church property. The same pastors and other so-called church leaders would not allow these immigrants to remain permanently in their personal homes. If you do not treat your country as your home, you have no respect for your country.

    Illegals come from places with churches too. Prayers can be heard from anywhere. It's not necessary to keep illegals, people who disrespect the USA, its people and its laws, simply because they managed to sneak into the USA.

    Churches should teach illegals respect! Respect for others and for themselves. Any immigrant who fills out the forms before coming, I'll welcome with open arms. Any illegal who abuses and disrespects my home and my country shall see my boot.

    These churches and religious groups should sue God for not letting everyone sneak into heaven and for not allowing amnesty to those who overstay.

    August 16, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • Billy Bob

      This has got to be the best response I've seen here. Well thought out. You're right. Even the illegals would not tolerate this type of behavior in their own countries. They'd be the first to throw the bleeding hearts out on their as*&%, This is really an attempt to push the social justice agenda of some of the churches. It's pathetic that people don't get that.

      August 16, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • Hooligan

      word... and this goes for illegal immigrants from ANY country be it Mexico, Canada , Somalia or Sweden.

      August 16, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  12. SPM

    Will the church also argue for harboring criminals like murderers or perpetrators of other violent crimes, under the same grounds?

    August 16, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • Hooligan

      in old days they did... and to a degree that is fine as long as they stay on church ground... it should be like an embassy of sorts.. but once you leave that property be prepared to face the reality of the law that has power outside that dominion

      August 16, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • Bruce

      Lack of proper doc_u_mentation, while technically illegal, is not a violent crime. Just a fyi...

      (And I hate that I have to spell it that way in these comments...)

      August 16, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • Law Teacher

      I guess you never heard of benefit of clergy.

      August 16, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • Bruce

      And also, I think there is case law that establishes the right of clergy to treat something like a Roman Catholic Church building and the property assigned to the church in much the same way we treat foreign embassies, and thus yes–it can be thought of as a sanctuary and as a political asylum of sorts.

      August 16, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • Nonimus

      I may be wrong but I don't think churches have any right of sanctuary or right of clergy any more. If I understand it correctly, that was a medieval concept and no longer has legal standing. I think many law enforcement agencies will be cautious about removing suspects if clergy tries to claim sanctuary for someone, but I think they will eventually disregard the concept if forced to.

      August 16, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  13. ketrout

    The churches need to stay out of the immigration business and tend to their flock. God gave Moses the 10 Commandments and expected his followers to obey the laws. So, the churches should be teaching that coming into the US ILLEGALLY is not the RIGHT way to do it, rather enter the US LEGALLY!!!

    The churches are only worried that their coffers will end up with less money! WHAT A JOKE!!!

    NO DREAM ACT!!! NO AMNESTY, PERIOD!!! OBEY OUR IMMIGRATION LAWS!!!!!

    August 16, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • Kraznodar

      Illegal immigration does not violate the 10 commandments so you are pretty much a doofus if you say it does. Jesus Christ said "love thy neighbor as thy self" and then told the story of the good Samaritan. Samaritans were constantly in conflict with the kingdom of Judah which puts them a step down from how Americans think of Mexicans. If your most bitter rival should be as important to you as yourself, then no Christian should oppose illegal immigration.

      August 16, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • nown

      Isn't it covered under "coveting your neighbor's a.ss, etc."

      August 16, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  14. Patti

    It's because they want more memebers for their churches. Church leader wouldn't get involved if most immigrants were Muslims.

    August 16, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  15. Rocko

    More Catholics more money, what a deal. These are the same people who are against birth control, despite the over population problem, who refuse to let priests marry despite the pedophile problem. If this religion doesn't keep up with the times soon, it will do more harm than good.

    August 16, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • Publius Novus

      How would more Catholics mean more money for the Episcopalians and Methodists?

      August 16, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  16. ron

    What rights? If you are here illegally you shouldn't be able to drive, vote, send your kids to our schools on the taxpayer dime, get housing, medical care, etc... Allowing this to happen is making illegal immigration attractive in this country. Go home, and come back the right way, as many millions have. You are cheating them of all their hard work. I don't care what nationality or race you came from. I might even like you if I met you. But starting a new life based on a lie, is a poor way to start.

    August 16, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • Publius Novus

      There is one primary thing that makes this country attractive to our southern neighbors. Despite our high (for us) unemployment rate, we have many low-skill, low-paying jobs. As long as we have people like Rick Perry "creating" thousands of minimum and sub-minimum wage jobs, illegals will keep on flooding into this country. For them, a low paying job is better than no job. And a low-paying U.S. job pays more than a good job in Central America.

      August 16, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
  17. Hooligan

    lets give a parallel, an extreme one maybe but a parallel in the same theme.. If a Mosque was to harbor members or sympathizers of Al Qaeda would you think it was acceptable for members of the Mosque to sue the state for demanding them to turn over said people? As a mosque it is their duty to uphold the laws of their god.... when the shoe is on the different foot many of you sing quite a different tune. Now go ahead an justify why this Church has more of a reason then anyone else to break the law for their own religious beliefs.

    August 16, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • jorge washiinsen

      Remember a few years back when a Catholic church was protecting an illegal against federal law?No one could go in the church supposedly. If it had been Willie Sutton in there they would have gone in.

      August 16, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • aubrie

      Good point Hooligan!!! I've been reading a lot of your posts, and you speak with a voice of reason and intelligence....

      August 16, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  18. Hoot

    TAX THE CHURCHES. IF THEY ARE INVOLVED IN POLITICAL ISSUES, THEY SHOULD BE TAXED!

    August 16, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • jorge washiinsen

      Won't work. Squeaky wheel army will come out.Half the skulldugery that happens is planned in church meetings,tax free I might ad. Some of the best real estate in this country is tax free.

      August 16, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  19. Dan

    I think that any church who decides to speak out about legal or political issues should lose it's tax free status.

    August 16, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • ARMYofONE

      Exactly. Lose the tax free status and than file lawsuits about things that are illegal. Maybe some of them are trying to recoup their money from the molestations trials and lawsuits?

      August 16, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
  20. Nonimus

    Does the U.S. allow polygamy, murder, female circu.mcision, or stoning to death because they are expressions of religion? No.
    Freedom of Religion and expression thereof does not allow anyone to break the law. They have the right to express their disagreement with this law both as citizens and as a religious matter, but if it's law and they break it, then they will have to accept the consequences.

    That being said, the law does sound va,gue and seems to require everyone to check everyone's 'papers'.
    "Hey, let's go get a beer after work?" said the worker.
    "Okay, I'll buy. But I'll have to see your ID or passport since you speak Spanish." replied the coworker.

    August 16, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
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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.