Alabama United Methodist Church leaders are in stark opposition to the new state’s law on illegal immigrants, recently signed by Governor Robert J. Bentley.
Known as HB 56, the legislation has been called the “meanest bill in the nation” with provisions affecting everything from transportation to school districts, and is being met with much disapproval from religious communities.
South Alabama Methodist Bishop Paul W. Leeland joined North Alabama Bishop William H. Willimon on Wednesday, issuing a statement against the new law, The Associated Press reported.
Leeland stated that the law violated a basic understanding of the Christian faith, which is to serve all people at all times, according to AP. Regardless of their immigration status, he welcomed people in United Methodist churches.
Bishop Willimon also similarly responded, stating in an open letter to Gov. Bentley, Sen. Scott Beason, and Rep. Micky Hammon, Willimon that “just as Christians have a moral duty to obey just laws, they also have a moral duty to disobey unjust ones.”
“We are a group of United Methodist ministers from all across the state of Alabama who believe that HB 56 is an unjust law.”
“As Christian ministers,” he further penned, “we not only believe that this law is not in the state’s best interest, but we also believe it contradicts the essential tenets of the Christian faith.”
“Scripture is filled with examples of God’s people wandering as ‘aliens and strangers.’ In the Old Testament, God reminds the people, ‘You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt (Exodus 22:21)’.”
Citing other examples from the Bible including the parable of the Good Samaritan and the teachings of Apostle Paul, Willimon, although validating the economic concerns of the state, continued to voice his objections and repeat that the United Methodist Church was a church for all people alike.
By keeping HB 56, the people in the churches would be breaking the law, not keeping it, he added.
Because the law would be challenged in court, Willimon also warned of the cost to the state in millions of dollars. The American Civil Liberties Union in fact already declared intentions to file a lawsuit opposing HB 56, arguing that it would welcome racial profiling in the state.
Wade Henderson, head of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, went as far as saying “HB 56 is designed to do nothing more than terrorize the state’s Latino community,” as reported by the Los Angeles Times.
Despite the controversy, the Alabama governor is proud of creating “the strongest immigration bill in the country” and hopes to crack down on illegal immigration.
Alabama is the fourth state to follow Arizona’s statewide immigration laws, with Georgia, Utah and Indiana also onboard.
The new law would require immigration status checks for workers, allow police officers to ask about immigration status, result in jail time and penalties, and make transportation of illegal aliens a crime.
Methodist leaders in other states as well have called it their moral obligation to defend the rights of immigrants against bills like HB 56, saying that Scripture recognizes all people as immigrants.
Though Bishop Willimon is confident that the bill will be overturned in Alabama, he urges more believers, in the meantime, to speak up in the name of Christ.
“[This] bill an embarrassment to our state and does not represent the spirit of hospitality of our churches,” he wrote.
“We United Methodist clergy will continue to be in ministry to all people and we call on all United Methodists to do the same.”