Alabama Christian leaders have filed a lawsuit this week to stop the state from enacting the “nation’s most merciless” anti-immigration law, claiming it would prohibit Christians from living out their faith and the mandates of Scripture.
Plaintiffs in the suit filed Monday include leaders of the Episcopalian, Methodist and Roman Catholic churches in Alabama, who represent 338,000 of the state’s faithful.
The ecumenical group insists the new immigration law, effective September 1, could ensnare Christian leaders who unknowingly administer religious sacraments, such as Holy Communion, to illegal immigrants.
In addition to Christian worship being adversely affected by the law, the plaintiffs express concern that Christians would be impeded from following “God’s mandate that the faithful are humbly bound to welcome and care for all people.”
The law, entitled the Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, targets residents who do not have proof of legal residency or alien registration in the U.S. Without documents verifying their legal status, it would be illegal for such persons to live or work in Alabama. In addition, it would be a crime for anyone to transport, conceal, harbor or shield an illegal immigrant.
“If enforced, Alabama's Anti-Immigration Law will make it a crime to follow God's command to be Good Samaritans,” the lawsuit states.
Christian leaders are not the only ones who think Alabama’s immigration law simply goes too far.
The legislation, signed June 9 by Gov. Robert Bentley, has also been challenged by the Justice Department.
In its lawsuit also filed Monday, the Justice Department portrays the law as far-reaching.
The law is "designed to affect virtually every aspect of an unauthorized immigrant's daily life, from employment to housing to transportation to entering into and enforcing contracts to going to school," the DOJ stated.
Justice Department officials express concern that U.S. residents, tourists, and others with legal status might be harassed or wrongfully detained under enforcement of the law.
In another suit filed against the Alabama law last week by several groups, including the Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Mike Hubbard, the speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives, said the law would be enacted despite the legal challenges.
Hubbard admitted that if changes needed to be made, lawmakers would do so.
“But Alabama is not going to be a sanctuary state for illegal immigrants,” he said in a statement. “Alabama will have a strict immigration law and we will enforce it."
An estimated 120,000 unauthorized immigrants lived in Alabama in 2009 and 2010, according to the Washington-based Pew Hispanic Center.
According to local media reports, undocumented immigrants living in Alabama have been preparing to leave the state in case the numerous legal challenges fail to keep the law from being enacted.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed by the Christian community are: the Rt. Rev. Henry N. Parsley Jr., bishop of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Alabama; Rev. William H. Willimon, bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church; and the Most Rev. Thomas J. Rodi, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Mobile; and the Most Rev. Robert J. Baker, Roman Catholic Bishop of Birmingham.
Archbishop Rodi issued a statement on the Mobile archdiocese’s website Monday, saying the anti-immigration law “attacks our very understanding of what it means to be a Christian.”
He stated, “Throughout our history we have been a nation of immigrants. The words of Moses to the Hebrew people should resonate in our own hearts: ‘You shall not oppress or afflict the alien among you, for you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt.’ (Exodus 22:20) As citizens we have the right to live our Christian faith. As Christians, we have an obligation to do so.”
Alabama is the latest among a handful of other states that have passed laws similar to Arizona’s immigration law, which was blocked by a challenge from the Justice Department last summer. These states have also attracted lawsuits from civil rights groups.