Beau Underwood, Faith in Public Life’s Partnership and Outreach Coordinator, holds graduate degrees in religion and public policy and worked on several political campaigns before joining FPL. He blogs about faith in the public square, public theology, and workers’ rights and other economic issues at Bold Faith Type.
Inspired by their faith, a group of Alabamians are refusing to give up despite their own elected officials’ intransigence. Yesterday they prayed and sang outside the Senate chamber, blocking the entryway and forcing the Senators to hear their message. Rev. Angie Wright explained:
The purpose was twofold. One purpose was to express moral outrage and opposition to HB 56, Alabama’s inhumane immigration law, and secondly to challenge the Senate to take action and to move through their fear of standing up to the opposition they face.
Yesterday, Alabama’s House of Representatives passedHB 658, which makes minor tweaks to HB 56, the draconian anti-immigrant law enacted last year. Unfortunately, as this report from WTVY makes clear, the law would still criminalize people of faith for caring for their neighbors:
Faith leaders have been telling their legislators that these laws violate their religious beliefs. Yesterday’s legislative action in the House was a sad victory for cruel politics. Let’s hope the Alabama Senate chooses compassion over political ideology.
With the Catholic Bishops and dozens of Catholic leaders speaking out against Paul Ryan’s budget, several Catholic members gave speeches on the floor of the House of Representatives last night talking about the serious moral and policy failures that would result from enacting Ryan’s extreme proposal.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) pointed out that Ryan’s proposal would “likely increase poverty and inequality more than any other budget in recent times…The decisions made in this budget are antithetical to our basic moral values:”
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) added that the budget proposal passed by the House would be a “huge squeeze on the poorest people in our society:”
Catholic Bishops, theologians, social service providers, and legislators have spoken clearly. While Paul Ryan attempts to justify his budget on Catholic grounds, the choices his budget makes are not in line with the beliefs and principles of Catholic Social Teaching.
On Wednesday, the Alabama House held multiple hearings on HB 56, the harsh anti-immigrant law enacted last year. Conservatives have offered a few cosmetic tweaks that fail to substantively change the law. In a sign of just how unpopular the law is, the speakers at one committee’s hearing were dominated by opponents of the law. One of those witnesses, Rev. Stephen Jones, who earlier appeared in a TV ad by faith leaders opposing the law, offered this testimony:
JONES: I don’t think this bill reflects who we are in Alabama. We talk a lot about God. In fact the day this bill was introduced on this floor I’m the one that had the prayer that opened this with a prayer. Then we come back with a bill that looks very much not like who we are as a religious people.
Now I’m a Christian so I’m looking at it from a Christian perspective. And I recognize the Christ who said I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. And more importantly I was a stranger and you welcomed me. What you have one to the least of these you have done unto me.
I’m calling on religious people in this state to be honest about their faith. To take the politics out of it and if this is who you say you are religiously you have to stand against this.
The faith community has coalesced in opposition to HB-56, the extreme anti-immigrant law enacted by Alabama’s legislature and governor last year. Religious leaders are concerned both about how the law criminalizes their ministry and the larger moral questions such harsh legislation raises. Their voices have been unified, loud, and clear, but recent accounts in the media might leave you with a different impressions.
The group called Faith Leaders for a Welcoming Alabama says the law is having far-reaching negative impacts on the state. About 25 so-called faith leaders are part of the group that sponsored the ad.
This is not only unprofessional, it’s insulting. The faith leaders behind the ad are prominently listed on the campaign’s website with their city and church. They could all be independently verified by even the most amateur of journalists or researchers. Royer’s blatant denigration of these faith leaders is a shameful reflection on him and his network.
Even more egregiously, the Associated Press published a story looking at the “reforms” to the law being pushed by conservatives in the state legislature. The article was titled “Ala. immigration changes address religious concern.”
Yet the substance of the article clearly demonstrates that “changes” have done anything but!
The only source that claims so is an adviser to Governor Robert Bentley, an advocate for the law, who is clearly trying to spin the recent bill as having solved the problem. The story then goes on to extensively quote faith leaders speaking passionately about the severity of the problems encapsulated by the law, problems that they insist continue to exist despite nominal “reforms:”
The Rev. Angie Wright from the Beloved Community United Church of Christ in Birmingham said the changes don’t go far enough and in some cases make the law harsher. That includes levying a felony punishment for aiding five illegal immigrants, when the current law provides for aiding 10 or more.
“It is deeply disturbing to me, especially during Holy Week, that legislators have shown no remorse for the massive suffering caused by HB56,” she said, referring to the bill number for the law.
Wright is an organizer of Faith Leaders for a Welcoming Alabama, which is running TV ads criticizing the law. She said the proposed changes won’t stop criticism because even if the changes are enacted, the law will still interfere with the role of churches by creating fear in immigrant communities.
“This is the work of the Lord — looking after the least of these,” she said.
Kitty Rogers Brown, an attorney for Episcopal Bishop Henry Parsley Jr. of the Diocese of Alabama, said Friday the revision legislation is a sign that state officials are listening to religious leaders’ concerns. “But it does not go far enough,” she said.
Brown said some of the changes appear to offer protection to church leaders, but the wording of the bill makes her concerned the protection is not extended to church members.
Political issues and legislative processes are complex. People depend on the media for accurate information to help them understand the policies supported by their elected officials. These two instances of sloppy journalism reveal how the media contributes to the public’s confusion around a particular issue, particularly when Southern faith leaders don’t neatly fit the stereotype of being uniformly conservative.