US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Bringing a friend to church will be a crime in Alabama if law passes

Father Tom Joyce CMF | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

A federal judge, after hearing a challenge to Alabama’s new law from religious leaders, the Justice Department, and the American Civil Liberties Union, put it on hold till September 29th. It was originally to take effect September 1.

The law would make giving an undocumented neighbor a lift to church or the doctor would have been a crime. In other words, if Sister Mary drives an expectant, undocumented mother to the hospital as she is about to deliver, she’ll be committing a crime. To teach an undocumented child to pray the Hail Mary in catechism class would have been a crime. As Archbishop Thomas Rodi of Mobile said, the new Alabama immigration law “attacks our core understanding of what it means to be a church.” So he and other religious leaders of the state challenged the law in federal court on religious grounds. The state is dictating to the churches what it means to be charitable and compassion in conformity with the gospel.

This “cruelest, most unforgiving immigration law”, as the New York Times described it, goes much further than that. Undocumented school children, even though the federal courts guarantee them a public education K through 12, must reveal their status to teachers--as must the parents upon enrollement--and teachers must report it to the state. Police are no longer restrained from inquiring about immigration status, so an officer can act on his suspicions--an invitation to racial profiling. You also can’t make a contract with an undocumented person or hire them. The law prohibits knowingly “concealing, harboring, or shielding” undocumented persons, which includes escorting someone to church or assisting them in need.

Proponents of the law argue that critics are taking it to extreme interpretations. But the language of the law is so sweeping, they become logical conclusions. The Times editorial reminds us that Alabama vigorously enforced the Fugitive Slave Act and Jim Crowe laws and resisted the civil rights movement with water cannon and dogs in the streets of Montgomery. Alabama’s new law is in contrast to the Obama administration’s new use of prosecutorial discretion on deportation to focus on those who are a real threat to our peace and security.