Bishops make Alabama immigration law matter of religious freedom

USA - Episcopal, Roman Catholic and Methodist bishops have joined with civil rights groups to challenge an immigration bill signed into law in June by Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley on grounds it violates religious freedom.

The law makes harboring, transporting or shielding undocumented people a criminal offense. Yet faith communities are often transporting immigrants to church, hospitals, and events, while assisting them with food, shelter and school supplies—the very hospitality commanded by scriptures.

“Religion is not just about what we do on Sunday morning in worship, it’s about how we live and love our neighbor, how we do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God in our dealings with each other. But the law creates a climate of fear…” says the Right Reverend Henry Nutt Parsley, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama. ”We are people under the law and we have to be obedient to the laws, but laws have to reflect the morality of the culture.”

Republican Senator Bryan Taylor claims the law is meant to crack down on employers who are knowingly hiring illegal immigrants and to provide more employment opportunities for the citizens of Alabama, one reason his constituents largely support it.

“It’s not illegal for a church to provide a ride for an undocumented alien to go to a retreat, and it’s certainly not illegal to hold a foreign-language church service at which people who happen to be illegal immigrants might happen to attend,” Taylor said.

But the bishops are not waiting to see how interpretation and application of the bill’s law actually manifests once it is in effect. The Federal Court has put it on hold, and is currently reviewing arguments both for against it.

Odyssey Networks has a story illuminating the issues from the perspectives of both the church and the state in the video ”The Immigration Debate: Alabama Bishops Unite to Fight Tough New Law.”

One vision seeks to dissipate the fear of seeking spiritual and material support for the “least of these”; the other seeks to alleviate the fear of declining job prospects for the 10% of the state’s population who are unemployed.