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Media Inaccuracy Misleads on Alabama Immigration Debate

April 11, 2012, 8:00 am | Posted by Beau Underwood

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.

On Thursday in Birmingham local NBC news anchor Mike Royer introduced the major advertising initiative led by dozens of clergy from across Alabama, as follows:

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.

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