At a press conference yesterday announcing the new faith coalition and advertising campaign against the anti-immigrant H.B. 56 law, Rev. J. Stephen Jones, senior pastor of Southside Baptist Church in Birmingham who was featured in the ad, explained what’s at stake in Alabama:
We pray together for all God’s children here in Alabama and we urge our legislators to honor the Christian commitment to family, community, and dignity by changing course on immigration. HB 56 violates our most basic values, separating parents from children, criminalizing our ministries to those in need, and opening the door to discriminatory profiling of our fellow Alabamians.
As the legislative debate heats up the faith community in Alabama has sent a clear statement. They want a state that affirms the dignity of all people and allows them to minister to everyone without fear, and they want an end to this artificial crisis created by an extreme political ideology.
We’ve tracked how Alabama’s anti-immigrant law HB-56 not only violates the civil rights of Alabama residents and visitors, but also criminalizes the faith community’s efforts to serve vulnerable immigrants.
Now, a new coalition of faith leaders from across the state are going on the offensive against this abhorrent law, unveiling a hard-hitting TV ad campaign calling out the ways the law has negatively affected Alabama’s churches, farms, schools, children and families.
As the Supreme Court prepares to take up legal challenges to Arizona’s controversial immigration law (SB-1070), more than 50 prominent Catholic, Protestant and Jewish groups signed on to an amicus curiae brief arguing for suspension of the law.
“People of faith are compelled to oppose unjust laws that fail to uphold the dignity of every human being,” said Lisa Sharon Harper, Director of Mobilizing at Sojourners. “All people are created in the image of God, and the Arizona law is an assault on that moral reality.”
According to the brief, SB-1070 “endangers a large swath of Arizonans” by requiring law enforcement officials to demand that residents provide proof of citizenship. As the brief points out, the law deputizes local police officers as immigration agents, creating a host of legal problems and humanitarian issues.
“This immoral law is turning people of faith into criminals,” said Rev. Luis Cortés, Presidentof Esperanza, a prominent Latino evangelical organization. “Laws that promote inhumane treatment of God’s children have no place in our country and will lead to civil disobedience. Christ demands that of his followers.”
People of faith provided a constant witness at the Arizona Statehouse as SB-1070 was debated, and after its passage they have pressed the courts to dismantle the draconian legislation. Arizona was the first state in the U.S. to pass this type of “attrition through enforcement” anti-immigrant law, and dozens of other states have since taken up similar proposals, which have passed in states such as Alabama and Georgia. Faith leaders in these states have spoken out against these laws that divide communities and separate immigrant families.
“We have seen firsthand the devastating effect of anti-immigrant legislation on all Arizonans, immigrant and non-immigrant alike,” said Bishop Minerva Carcaño of the Desert Southwest Conference of the United Methodist Church. “I have confidence that the U.S. Supreme Court will repeal SB 1070. However, even if the Supreme Court is unable to make this right and bold decision, United Methodists in Arizona and across the U.S. will stand firmly and compassionately with our immigrant brothers and sisters.”
Signers of the brief expect the Supreme Court to overturn the law, but regardless of the verdict remain focused on the higher law that commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves.
“As people of faith, we are called to welcome others as God has welcomed us,” said Dr. Sharon E. Watkins, General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). “May God move the hearts of our political leaders in the direction of greater hospitality and compassion toward our sisters and brothers in immigrant communities across this nation.”
Religious leaders from across the theological and ideological spectrum have been outspoken in their support for comprehensive federal immigration reform and their condemnation of state legislation that deputizes teachers and local law enforcement as immigration agents, drives hard-working people further into the shadows, and creates a climate of hostility and suspicion. When the first-of-its-kind anti-immigrant billed SB 1070 was signed into law in Arizona, the faith community immediately denounced the legislation for dividing communities and unfairly targeting Latinos.
The Supreme Court is slated to hear legal challenges to SB 1070 this year, and dozens of religious groups have signed onto an amicus curiae brief urging the court to reject the law because of the host of legal problems and humanitarian issues it has caused. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, longtime advocates for humane comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act, are also weighing in with their own separate brief.
State laws in Alabama, Arizona, and other States have created environments in which immigrants, regardless of their legal status, and law enforcement personnel are pitted against each other, eroding long-held trust between immigrant neighborhoods and local authorities. … ….Unless Congress acts in the near future, we are deeply concerned that these new laws will continue to tear at the social fabric of our nation.
The prelates also point out the negative impact these state laws have had on church ministries and continue to urge Congress to pass comprehensive reform.
Elected officials often fail to understand the impact of the laws they pass. Exhibit A is Alabama’s harsh anti-immigrant law HB-56, which is costing the state millions, emptying its schools, and criminalizing religious practice. While the state’s political leaders delay in offering solutions to solve this unnecessary crisis, Alabamians continue to suffer.
As faith and community leaders across the state fight to repeal HB 56, they have a clear message for other states considering passing similar laws: “you’ll regret it.” Speaking alongside others who’ve seen the consequences of Alabama’s law first hand on a press call today, Pastor Ron Higey of Birmingham International Church made explicit the anti-Christian nature of the law:
From a Christian faith perspective I cannot comfortably explain why we would treat others this way – harshly and punitively. As Christians – as people of faith, we are called to a higher standard of how we live with and treat others. For these reasons I call on upon Christians and people of faith to stand against this law and call their legislators and voice their objections and concerns.
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus famously asks his disciples, “what good is it to gain the whole world, yet lose your soul?” Pastor Higey’s comments should leave Alabama legislators questioning the value of a political triumph that wreaks such havoc and causes such wrenching pain.