Text of presentation at SB 256 Public Hearing

Senate Bill 256 section two opens with this statement, “The state of Alabama finds that illegal immigration is causing economic hardship and lawlessness in this state.” I would like to know on what evidence does the state of Alabama make this assumption.

Here are the facts, The Congressional Budget Office in 2007 determined, “Over the past two decades, most efforts to estimate the fiscal impact of immigration in the United States have concluded that, in aggregate and over the long term, tax revenues of all types generated by immigrants—both legal and unauthorized—exceed the cost of the services they use.”  This does not indicate economic hardship.   The law advocacy group, Alabama Appleseed, found data that stated that immigrants in Alabama account for 4.9 Billion dollars in state revenue in 2009.  This also does not indicate economic hardship.

So what about lawlessness.  Since 1980 both violent and property crime rates have dropped nationwide according to the US Census Bureau.  But let’s look more closely at Alabama with data from the FBI. In 1980, Murder rates were at 13.2 per 100,000 and in 2009, 6.9 per 100,000.  Rape, robbery, aggravated assault remained roughly the same between 1980 and 2009.

What about the numbers of immigrants nationwide—in 1980 1-16 people was an immigrant, in 1990, 1-13 and in 2007 1-8 were immigrants. This data is from Center for Immigration Studies.   In Alabama, we know that according to the US census, the immigration population in 1990 was 1.1%.  It grew to 2% in 2000 and to 4% in 2010.  So if immigrants were indeed causing an increase in lawlessness, then their increasing numbers might be found to correlate with an increasing number of crimes but this is not the case.  What does show a possible correlation to crime rates is the increase of the poverty rate in Alabama from 14.6% in 2000 and 16.6% in 2010.

The State of Alabama has not proven its case that immigrants, documented or undocumented are causing either economic hardship or increased lawlessness.  What the state of Alabama has proved by this bill is that it is scapegoating the economic woes of Alabama on the backs of immigrants instead of addressing the real cause of its problems which is a corrupt tax code that deliberately privileges corporations and the wealthy and over burdens the working class and poor.

The result of this will be economic suicide.  Alabama may succeed to drive out our immigrant population because of the racial profiling and harassment that will ensue resulting in all of our businesses losing the 4.9 Billion dollars in revenue this group of hard working, decent people contribute annually.

You were elected to create jobs so that Alabama can thrive but this hardhearted, and dare I say, arrogant bill will instead destroy Alabama.  Do not go down this immoral and unjust path, Alabama’s people deserve better from you. You are better than this.

 

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When We Assume or Update on Public Hearing SB 256

Tuesday was the day for Alabama’s Senate to hold their public hearing on their version of the Arizona style immigration bill, SB 256.  This public hearing had a different feel than the house version of this bill.  It was located in a small cramped room of standing room only.   The senators instead of just listening to comments made their own comments in response.  It was these comments that were most telling regarding the mindset behind this bill.

All of the speakers who spoke to this bill spoke in opposition. Shay Farley of Alabama Appleseed confronted the assumptions that are written directly into the bill’s language.  It was the direction I would be going in my presentation as well when my turn to speak came.   She spoke directly to the assumption that “illegal immigrants” are the cause of lawlessness and economic hardship.  The responses from Senator Scofield and another senator whose name escapes me were of the anecdotal stories of gangs, of property values decreasing because of overcrowding, the costs to schools for Spanish translators where the population is 20%  immigrants, and of hospitals not being able to recoup full costs from births of immigrants.   Anecdotal stories based on assumptions that if “illegal immigrants” were rounded up and deported then gangs would disappear, overcrowding of housing would cease, the need for Spanish translators would no longer exist, and hospitals’ maternity wards would be paid in full.  Ms. Farley countered that hospitals are mandated by federal law to provide services regardless of immigrant status. Once the child is born they are citizens thereby making hospitals eligible for full reimbursement.  The senator responded that if the immigrants simply were not here in the first place the hospital would not have to worry about full or partial reimbursement.

There is another narrative that could be applied to these anecdotal stories. That narrative is one of extreme poverty but to apply this narrative would require a different solution where tax codes are revised so that corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes in the state enabling reinvestment into communities where poverty reigns supreme.   But in this state of Alabama where white privilege is institutionalized in its constitution, it is going to take more than retelling the story of immigrants.

The assumption that if 20% of a student population speaks Spanish then that same 20% must be here illegally or born to parents who are here illegally is a false assumption.  The senator stated that if these illegal immigrants were removed then the school could hire more teachers instead of having to pay for translation services.  It is a huge assumption that 20% native Spanish speaking children in a school equals 20% undocumented children.  How would the school district or the state for that matter  accomplish the removal of these students so that there would no longer be any need for the nine translators the senator stated this school now employs?

It is quite simple of course.  Begin by stopping every driver who appears to be of foreign descent.  Now it could be for legal reasons such as driving over the speed limit or failure to use turn signals but it might also be for such minor infractions like a cracked tail light.  Create laws that require every aspect of the immigrant’s  life is spent proving their right to be here.  Every new job, every new rental, every new medical procedure, every minor infraction, every time  a ride is hitched to work, every time a church provides transportation to attend worship, every time a driver’s license is renewed, every time a marriage license or a hunting license is sought, every time children are enrolled into school or college ; the immigrant is there proving their right to exist. This proposed legislation impinges on all of these aspects of life in this state and creates felonies for all who refuse to comply to it.  This is legal harassment.

The assumption that “illegal immigrants” are receiving services that they do not deserve is strong.  And since the state cannot know who is or is not here illegally, every one who is of reasonable suspicion is stopped. It is no longer about removing undocumented people, it is about removing immigrants from the state.

A young woman spoke and stated that she is the face of immigrants in the state.  She stated that her parents became citizens through the immigration act of 1986.  The opportunities created for her family has enabled her to pursue her doctorate  but because she is Latino she will be targeted under this legislation. By her looks  alone  it will be assumed that she is undocumented.  Senator Sanford replied that all she needs to do is show her driver’s license and be on her way as if the indignity of being targeted again and again is that easily resolved.  He added that he appreciates her putting a face to immigrants in the state but hers was not the face this bill is targeting.  Senator Sanford does not get it.  His response was smug and arrogant.  His response implied that he could tell what the face of an undocumented person looks like in Alabama.   How many times will a police officer see her brown skin and then create a reason to check her out?  How many time will this happen before she decides Alabama is no longer a safe place for her because of institutionalized white supremacy and privilege?

Assumptions about the anecdotal stories is what is driving this bill.  Not facts.  Not concrete data.  But assumptions on the anecdotes.  Assumptions that are developed through the lens of a constitution that was never dismantled and discarded after the civil rights movement struck many of its provisions federally unconstitutional.  A constitution that still declares itself to be a white supremacist document and still institutionalizes white privilege through out the state.  The white senators do not get it.  They sat there and in the face of facts and in the face of evidence that proved their assumptions wrong, they smugly stated they were in the right.

I will post the text of my presentation in a separate post.

How Do We Heal?

Every so often a member of my congregation or from another congregation would tell me they cannot bear to hear a certain song or a certain story or even specific words because they conjure up for them such painful memories in their past.   They have connected to these songs, stories, or specific words to those memories so tightly that their response is almost like the conditioning that Pavlov had created with connecting the sound of a bell with food. The next statement from these individuals is to please never use these songs, stories, or words again because the pain is just too unbearable.

So how do we offer healing to our congregants?  Do we do so by avoiding certain texts, certain songs, certain words or do we do so by offering these texts, songs, and words in a different context.  If we refuse to sing a song because it is painful for some of our members, then that is a pastoral issue that we need to address.  Yes, we need to understand their pain. Yes, we need to understand the source of their pain but to refuse to ever sing the song again is not healthy either; not for them and not for us.

Religious community is about transformation.  It is about healing.  It is about conversion. It is about transcendence. Why would we try to protect people from these processes? Why would we want to keep people in bondage to their wounded and traumatic past by avoiding words, songs, texts that are tangential to their experience and do not need to be paired with those experiences any longer?

We want to be sensitive.  We want to be a loving community where we respect each others dignity and worth.  We want to be a place where we do not inflict pain and hurt on each other.  So in deference to our dear companions painful experiences we choose to avoid those songs, texts, or even those words that might offend or bring to the surface their emotional pain.

But this is not how we heal.  We do not heal by avoidance.  We heal emotionally and spiritually by expanding the context of meaning.  We heal by salving the wound with love and acceptance in that new context.

In my younger days, I belonged to a charismatic prayer community that was known for lack of a better word its Holy Roller behavior.  Nothing would stir this up for us more than the song, “Now Let Us Sing.” We would sing it over and over again with increasing frenzy until Holy Roller behavior occurred.  The song was done in a very coercive manner.

After my being excommunicated for being gay and my early days of attending a Unitarian Universalist congregation, I would shudder whenever I heard the congregation use the word community and would practically go into a panic whenever we sang, “Now Let Us Sing.”  I spoke up about this to the congregation but instead of the congregation no longer using the word which had very manipulative connotations for me or no longer singing the song, I was invited to expand the context of meaning.  I was invited to hear the word in a new way and to sing the song in a new voice. That is healing. That is transformation.  That is transcendence. That is conversion.

I knew that I was no longer in bondage to that pain when I could use the word community and not wince at those memories.  I knew that I was no longer in bondage to that pain when I could sing, “Now Let Us Sing” and not flashback to being coercive-ly manipulated by this other group. I was finally free.

Now perhaps this example seems trivial compared to the unimaginable experiences of someone living through the Holocaust or being molested by an alleged trusted adult. But my point is either we have a religion that offers freedom and healing to its members or we do not.  If we do, and I believe we do, then we need to be willing to find creative ways to bring that healing to our members.

Isn’t that what we want our faith to offer each of us?  To find release from whatever holds us back from living our full potential?  To find a place where we can explore what that potential might in fact be?  To find a place where we can be grounded and nurtured and bloom to the fullness of our life?  Now I do not know what that looks like for each of our members. I would imagine it is wildly unique. And that is the joy of our ministry.

Published in: on March 22, 2011 at 1:16 pm  Comments (1)  
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‘Tis a Gift to Be Simple

“‘Tis a Gift to Be Simple”
Rev. Fred L Hammond
20 March 2011 ©
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

Back in the 1990’s as I began organizing a non-profit agency serving people with HIV/AIDS, I distinctly remember having a conversation with my staff of the time wondering how in the world we ever managed without Fax machines. Now those FAX machines used thermal paper so we had to make a photo copy of them or else the paper would brown over a short period of time making the information unreadable. This led to the question how did we ever manage without copiers. When word processing became standard, the conversation became how we ever managed without computers. Then it was cell phones, the internet, emails, text messages, facebook, twitter, all methods to assist us in communication. And now that we have Kindles and Nooks, how did we manage without having a complete library at our fingertips. All of these technologies were to make our lives easier, so we thought. And it isn’t just in communications that these advances have occurred; it is in other fields as well…

My grand uncle Luther worked the farm, where he and my grandmother were born, in the same way that my great, great, great grandfather worked it with horse drawn plows and with tools that he blacksmithed himself. There is a film in the village’s museum of my great grandmother hand churning butter, she also hand churned ice cream. The farm did not have electricity until my grandfather wired the house in 1948. And then it was only a light bulb here and there. My great grandmother’s first purchase after getting electricity was an electric butter churner. There was an outhouse placed just so over the running brook until the health department came and told them it had to be moved away from the brook. And there was a well with a hand pump that came up into the kitchen. My uncle lived this way until his death in the mid 1980’s.

How differently they lived from us today. My family is only slightly atypical to have had family members still living as if the year was 1840 instead of 1986, the year my grand uncle died.  Everyone in this room is only two or three or four generations away from having family who lived in this simpler fashion.

We hear from many sectors of society of nostalgia for simpler times. There is a desire for a time when life was not so complex, not so demanding. We expect emails to be answered immediately if not sooner. We expect our computers to be as responsive to our direction as our muscles are to our brain’s commands, anything slower than that result in frustrating expletives coming from our lips.

The push for our children is for them to have a fully developed resume of athletic, music and the arts, civic volunteerism, and academic achievements just to be considered for a college application. Their schedules are just as hectic as and even more so than their parents. The pressure to perform is fierce. We have so many demands on our time that it seems that even breathing is an intrusion. Oh for a simpler time!

So just how do we achieve a simpler time. Well clearly, it is not by reverting back to how my grand uncle Luther lived with no indoor plumbing or electricity. Some may choose that but that is not what I am suggesting.

I am suggesting however, an examination of what fills our cups? There is story about this. It goes something like this: A philosophy professor stood before his class with some items on the table in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks, about 2 inches in diameter.
“He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.
“So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks.
“He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.
“The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else.
“He then asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous ‘Yes.’
“‘Now,’ said the professor, ‘I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The rocks are the important things – your family, your partner, your health, your children – things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.
“The pebbles are the other things that matter – like your job, your house, your car.
“The sand is everything else. The small stuff.’
“‘If you put the sand into the jar first,’ he continued ‘there is no room for the pebbles or the rocks. The same goes for your life.
“If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take your partner out dancing. There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, give a dinner party and fix the disposal.
“Take care of the rocks first – the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand .’”
I want to suggest that the jar is still not full. There is another thing that can be placed in the jar and that is water. The water can be considered to symbolize faith and the values we hold dear in our lives. But if all we have is faith in our life then it can lead to fundamentalism, it can lead to dogmatism, it can lead to easily being swayed by the tossing waves of fanaticism. Unitarian Universalists are just as prone to this as anyone so while some might think I am only referring to fanatical groups such as the Westboro Baptists, I am not. I am also referring to us.

If faith, water, is placed in our jars first, then we place the sand in the jar, which is all that stuff, the sand will cause the faith to spill out and leave the jar. Our families, our children, our relationships will suffer horribly under all the busy-ness of our lives. Our families, our children will suffer also if our jars are filled with water first because they will threaten the faith we have and cause it to spill over.

For example, if faith is first in my jar and filled to the brim and that faith tells me that homosexuality is wrong, then when one of my rocks in my life such as a child or a sibling comes out as gay, there is no room for them in my jar without sacrificing some of my faith. And since I have placed my faith first in my jar the child or sibling is cast aside because it is more important than anything or anyone else in our life. But if I have placed my child or sibling first in my jar and then add faith, faith surrounds them in love and I find myself enriched by their presence in new and miraculous ways.

When we place our rocks in the jar first and then the pebbles and then the sand and then the water something else happens. The water is able to interact with all of these and make the jar of our life conducive to growing life. The values we treasure enable our lives to support the lush green plants of our life as well. Our lives are no longer a desert of dry rocks, pebbles, and sand instead our lives become able to sustain life. They become able to weather the storms that certainly will cross our paths and seek to blow the rocks and pebbles away.

Faith is not something that flourishes in a solitary fashion. It is something that when shared with family, friends, and those we meet can create the environment where life can be nurtured and held in love. It can be the transformative act that helps us engage our world to create a more just world.

Simplifying our lives by removing the sand so that there is room for the rocks in our lives becomes an important goal. Duane Elgin, author of Voluntary Simplicity, outlines several forms of simplicity that people across the globe are seeking.

These are:
Uncluttered Simplicity: … means taking charge of lives that are too busy, too stressed, and too fragmented.

Ecological Simplicity: … means choosing ways of living that touch the Earth more lightly and that reduce our ecological impact on the web of life. … An ecological simplicity feels a deep reverence for the community of life on Earth and accepts that the nonhuman realms of plants and animals have their dignity and rights as well.

Family Simplicity: … means placing the well-being of one’s family ahead of materialism and the acquisition of things.

Compassionate Simplicity: … means feeling such a strong sense of kinship with others that, as Gandhi said, we “choose to live simply so that others may simply live.”

Soulful Simplicity: … means approaching life as a meditation and cultivating our experience of direct connection with all that exists.

Business Simplicity: … means that a new kind of economy is growing in the world, with healthy and sustainable products and services of all kinds (home-building materials, energy systems, food production, transportation).

Civic Simplicity: … means that living more lightly and sustainably on the Earth requires changes in every area of public life—from public transportation and education to the design of our cities and workplaces.

Frugal Simplicity: … means that, by cutting back on spending that is not truly serving our lives, and by practicing skillful management of our personal finances, we can achieve greater financial independence .

There are lots of ways for us to explore living more simply and making sure that the rocks and pebbles in our lives are well grounded and supported. It does not necessarily mean that we live in poverty or that we not purchase the technological gadgets that can cause our lives to be filled primarily with sand. What it means is that we consciously and deliberately choose what we have in our lives. It means we do not fall prey to the Best Buy commercial where the gadget we bought is obsolete the minute we purchase it and therefore must spend more money to upgrade ASAP. It means that we do not spend hundreds of dollars on the special edition Nikes when the no brand shoe will suffice.

It means that we sit down as a family and have face to face conversations instead of the Sprint commercial where the mother texts the teenage daughter that grandma is moving into her bedroom. What is really disturbing about this commercial is that everyone at the dinner table is more attuned to their cell phones than they are at verbal communication. If this sounds like your household, then consider banning cell phones at the dinner table. There are some times when we do not need to be instantly accessible to the latest Facebook or tweet being posted. I realize this is the new heresy of the modern age.

The benefits of voluntary simplicity (1) to the individual are great:
• More time to spend with family, friends and community.
• Less money spent on almost everything.
• Less stress in high-paying jobs or commuting to them.
• Less worry over possessions getting stolen or damaged.
• More satisfaction in learning to do things for oneself, such as fixing and maintaining possessions, cooking, gardening and … by mending and sewing, as well as making music and fun.
• Other benefits that are corollaries of these, including more time to read, less ill health, more opportunity to exercise and do satisfying physical work, less chance of getting in an accident on the freeway, and a general reordering of values from a focus on materialism to a focus on relationships.
But the benefits when people live a voluntarily simple life go beyond the individual and the family. Benefits to society as a whole and to the Earth are significant, and include:
• Less pollution from transportation and less traffic congestion, accidents and need for new roads.
• Less environmental impact from resource extraction and manufacturing.
• Less need for new power plants and new water treatment plants as people waste less electricity and water.
• More community cohesiveness, resulting in less crime and more neighborliness, safer streets and better schools.
• More grassroots democracy as people take more interest in how their communities operate.
• More ecological restoration as people find simple pleasure in connecting with their local environment and seek to heal it.
• A flowering of local culture–music, storytelling, drama, games, poetry.
Voluntary simplicity is a means to re-prioritizing our lives so that we are able to enjoy life more with those whom we love. It enables us to be stewards of this earth by using its resources in a more responsible manner.

I will close with this thought also from Duane Elgin: “Mahatma Gandhi advocate[d] a blind denial of the material side of life. He said, ‘As long as you derive inner help and comfort from anything, you should keep it. If you were to give it up in a mood of self-sacrifice or out of a stern sense of duty, you would continue to want it back, and that unsatisfied want would make trouble for you. Only give up a thing when you want some other condition so much that the thing no longer has any attraction for you.’”

Creating a simpler life is not about giving up things because of the need to sacrifice for the sake of others but rather it is when the desired outcome has increased in value for you that giving up the sand in your life is done voluntarily and easily.

In a world that is increasingly placing demands on our time and on our resources, it becomes a life giving act to consciously place priority on what matters most in our lives. It becomes a transformative act that can model for the world another way living that is healthy for our selves and for our planet. May we all examine our lives to see if the rocks in our life are placed first in our lives. Blessed Be.

(1) http://www.greatriv.org/vs.htm

Other quotes unless noted within the text with a hyper link are from Voluntary Simplicity Secondition: Toward a Way of Life That Is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich (Duane Elgin)

Published in: on March 20, 2011 at 2:20 pm  Comments Off on ‘Tis a Gift to Be Simple  
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Universalism: Love Wins

I had posted as my Facebook status the following: Universalism is the belief that all people, and I mean all people, are loved and received home by the creator. Therefore no matter how far we stray from our human ability to express love to our neighbors we, like the prodigal son, will be welcomed home into the arms of an all forgiving, all embracing creator. Love Wins. The choice is in whether we allow love to win now or later.

A friend then asked the obvious question, “Even Hitler?”  Yes, even Hitler. In the story of the prodigal son there were two brothers, the younger brother took his share of inheritance and wasted it all on prostitutes and drugs.  When he had become destitute he returns to his father’s home. The older brother is filled with rage that his father would throw this lavish party for his no good for nothing brother while not once had his father given him even so much as a young goat that he might celebrate with his friends.  That older brother is us.  It is easy for us who work hard to be just and loving, to do what is right to then become angry when mercy and love is offered to one who is so far from us in our actions.  It is easy to point our fingers at another and say that person is not worthy of love, look at what they have done!  “Give him the Death Penalty!”  “Crucify Him!”

They have conspired to murder, to rape, to terrorism; clearly these things are wrong and therefore worthy of death.  It is easy to justify this.  We as a society must have a standard conduct of behavior or else chaos would reign, right?  And so when a Hitler who has caused directly and indirectly so much evil and untold suffering in the world it is hard to believe that even Hitler could be embraced by Love.

I don’t remember who said it, but there is a quote out there in the universe that goes something like this, “It’s a pretty good bet that if God hates all the same people that you do, then that is not God.”  God should not be made in our image.  If God is all loving then that love extends to even those we detest with our whole being.   Hitler, in  the history of the world, might be such a candidate to be detested with our whole being.

There are some that argue, if everyone gets to heaven, then what motivation is there to do what is right/ to have a moral code of behaviors.  Love wins. If I have been so swayed by the power of love, if I have been so convinced that Love is worth my devotion with my heart and soul then I will choose to seek to do what is most loving, most honorable, most just. To embody Love becomes my motivation to change myself and to change the world towards justice.

I have just purchased the book by Rob Bell entitled Love Wins.  Today is the day it became available.  But it is not a new thought. The notion that God loves all and all will go to heaven is deeply rooted in Unitarian Universalism.  The title says it all.  Love Wins.

If there is any limitation on that love, then love does not win.  If Hitler is not included in Love winning then Love is not love.  If Love refuses a Hitler then it is not love but something else. And if Love refuses a Hitler, who else does Love refuse to embrace? Who else is Love powerless to embrace? Who else is love unable to transform and heal? And who gets to declares this powerlessness, this limitation of Love? Jesus did not.  Buddha, Mohamed, Confucius, Abraham-Hicks, Ram Dass, Thich Nhat Hahn, Dalai Lama, Marianne Williamson, all the spiritual teachers that ever walked this earth never once declared Love to have its limits of being Love.

Either Love wins or Love is not love but selective and prejudiced and biased and judgmental and unforgiving and condemning and vindictive and capricious and …

March 10 2011 Rally against HB 56

Under cold windy clouds, about 100 people from across the state gathered on the steps of the Alabama State House to protest HB 56, Alabama’s copy cat version of several Arizona’s anti-immigration bills rolled into one. I was pleased to see other Unitarian Universalist Ministers as well as some other clergy from other denominations in the crowd. There were six people scheduled to speak after welcoming remarks by Zayne Smith of Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice.

Isabel Rubio, Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama
Jason Childs, Center for Progress in Alabama
Sam Brooke, Southern Poverty Law Center
Jared Shepherd, Alabama American Civil Liberties Union
Fred Hammond, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa
Shay Farley, Alabama Appleseed Center for Law & Justice

After Isabel Rubio spoke, the Black Democratic Caucus surprised us by coming out to speak against the bill.  It was wonderful to have them speak eloquently about this legislation and fully understand what this bill is really about-an attack on the human rights of a specific population.  Their speaking did change the time frame for the remaining speakers, who were quickly editing down their talking points in order to abide with the permit regulations of being done by 2 PM.   Below is the full text of my speech which was translated into Spanish on the spot by one of two wonderful translators.  I have italicized the portion of my talk that I read at this event. It was well received with a spontaneous chant at the end of my talk.

My name is Fred L Hammond, I am the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa.

HB 56 goes against the very foundations of our faiths which teach us to love our neighbor as our selves.  Where-ever a similar bill to HB 56 has been passed the result has been the destruction of whole neighborhoods and local economies. And while these bills in these other locations also claimed to not use racial profiling, the lives of authorized citizens were repeatedly interrupted by unwarranted stops by police based on “reasonable suspicion.” These locations became hostile environments for American citizens who also happened to have brown skin or spoke with a particular accent.  We must not allow Alabama to reverse its progress against racism; instead we must continue to create the Alabama where all people, regardless of race or creed, are free to pursue the American Dream of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

There has been no consideration of what the economic cost to the municipalities mandated to not only enforce this law but to provide the funds to do so.  Representative Hammon stated that it costs $200 million a year to educate the undocumented children in our schools. He believes the savings to the state would far outweigh the cost of implementation.  Representative Hammon, you have been given a fictitious number.  There is no data, no evidence as to how many undocumented children we have in the state of Alabama. We do not even know how many undocumented citizens live in Alabama. This bill assumes that the 4 % of our population that are immigrants are all undocumented. There is no understanding what this bill will cost nor what it might potentially save us financially.

Here is what we do know.  Alabama’s 7,000 foreign students contributed $129 million to the state economy through tuition, fees, and living expenses in 2009.  Immigrants’ purchasing power was $4.9 Billion in 2009.  This bill’s intention is to make this state hostile to immigrants through “attrition by enforcement.” This bill will open the doors to harassment of foreign students and authorized immigrants who will then leave the state and take their money with them. So Representative Hammon how much are we going to save to outweigh this kind of revenue loss to the state?  Is this bill really worth $4.9 Billion in lost revenue?

HB 56 assumes that Alabama’s economic woes are caused by a growing immigration population.  This is scapegoating our irrational fears on the backs of innocent people. Alabama’s economic woes are caused by an unfair tax structure that allows corporations to pay nothing in taxes to Alabama. If corporations paid their fair share of income taxes then our state economy would be healthier. If the cost associated with similar bills passed elsewhere is any predictor, Alabama’s economy will further collapse under the heavy financial burden foisted onto the poor and the middle class. This bill only compounds the problems of the recession and does nothing to help rebuild Alabama’s economy.   It will lead to more irrational bills, drain the economy, and redirect law enforcers and courts away from addressing the violent crimes in the state.

And finally, Representative Hammon stated if a priest is found to have an undocumented citizen in his sanctuary then the priest would be arrested under this bill. This is the kind of legislation that criminalized ministers and priests in Germany for harboring Jews. People of faith are called to love mercifully, to act with justice, and to walk humbly with our God. If this bill makes me a criminal for living my faith, then so be it.  I will stand on the side of love rather than allow neighbor to turn against neighbor under an unjust law.   Vaya con Dios.  Si, se puede.

Blessings,

Published in: on March 10, 2011 at 9:07 pm  Comments Off on March 10 2011 Rally against HB 56  
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Standing on the Side of Love–a Spiritual Practice

Yesterday I went to the Statehouse in Montgomery to testify against HB 56, Alabama’s version of Arizona’s SB 1070.  As I listened to the testimony of those who were for this bill, I was struck by the anger they felt towards the values I hold dear.

Values like compassion for others.  Values like acceptance of diversity.  Values like equal opportunities for all.  Values like honoring the integrity and dignity of others. Values like having life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness accessible for everyone.

My faith denomination, Unitarian Universalist,  has been the sponsors of the Standing of the Side of Love Campaign.  It has been used in several ways.  It is prominent in the ongoing immigrant rights struggle in Arizona and elsewhere.  It is prominent in supporting Muslim’s right to freedom of religion in Tennessee and in New York City and other places in America.  It is prominent in the right to marriage campaign across this country.  And most recently, it has been supporting workers rights for collective bargaining in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio.

One of the criticisms lobbied at Unitarian Universalists is that we are not spiritual, that we are too much of the head and not enough, if at all, of the heart.  It has been a fair criticism.  We Unitarian Universalists value reason and critical thinking skills as a way to cut through the unprovable and the improbable in order to see the core of the matter in the hopes that we can make a difference for the better of all of our lives.  Sometimes we have succeeded and sometimes it has been our thorn in our side.

The Standing on the Side of Love campaign is in its very essence a remedy to that criticism.  Many years ago now, I decided to join Rev. Mel White, founder of Soulforce, in a seventeen step journey towards preparation in confronting the homophobia and violent rhetoric within the Christian Church.  This was a series of essays and reflections which I was invited to journal about and discuss with a friend before joining Mel White in Lynchburg, VA to speak with the late Rev. Jerry Falwell about his vitriol against gays.

One of the things Mel White wrote was this:

“When we seek freedom for someone else, we find freedom for ourselves. When we finally make the decision to take a stand against oppression (or the rhetoric that leads to oppression) that stand itself leads us to spiritual renewal whether we win or we lose the battle.”

Those who begin to engage in Standing on the Side of Love have an opportunity, to not only achieve the desired goal of undoing a grave injustice but also to experience a spiritual renewal within themselves.  Okay so that sounds self-centered and not altruistic in the least.

Yet, it is only ourselves that we can change. I cannot make someone else love their neighbor as they themselves would like to be loved.  But I can do that.  I can choose to love my neighbor.  I can reflect on what that action means to me and reinforce it into my behavior.  I can join with others who also choose to love their neighbor and together we can reflect on our common experiences of doing that act and build that into our way of being together.  This is what our Unitarian Universalist congregations aim to do every Sunday.

We can role model that behavior for others to witness.  Standing on the Side of Love is spiritual work.  It is not simply wearing a yellow t-shirt or placing a heart logo on our facebook page.  It is and can be a spiritual practice that helps us be fully in touch with our humanity’s soul.

I do not know how I will be able to face the anger that I faced yesterday if I do not choose to stand on the side of love daily.  I do not know how I will address that anger and possibly soften their anger to seeing another way if I do not choose to stand on the side of love daily.

I invite you to join me to stand on the side of love as if your life and faith depends on it.  I know mine does.  Blessings.

Alabama HB 56 Public Hearing

I have just returned from my first foray into Alabama politics at the statehouse where a public hearing on HB 56, Alabama’s combined version of several  laws passed in Arizona regarding immigration.  Many of the provisions are word for word from Arizona and thus if you hated Arizona’s SB 1070, then you will hate Alabama’s.

The first Wednesday of the month is the usual day when  my Unitarian Universalist ministers from Alabama and the Florida panhandle gather in Montgomery for a collegial meeting.  My Florida colleagues were unable to come to Montgomery today, so I suggested that we meet at the statehouse and attend this public hearing.  I was going to prepare a statement and having my colleagues there was indeed a comforting presence.

I have not done a statement at a public hearing in several years, the last time being when I lived in Connecticut and so I was anticipating a similar procedure where one needs to sign up well in advance of the meeting in order to get on the speakers list.   This really was not a concern I needed to worry about.   I got there early.  So did another person who it turns out had been on several emails that I received from Unitarian Universalists in the Birmingham area.  When the doors opened for the meeting I became the first person to sign up to speak, my new acquaintance, third.

State Rep. Mickie Hammon (Yes my last name minus the d)  is the chair and chief sponsor of this bill.  He gave a few introductory remarks including that this bill is already being amended and therefore much of what we are responding to could no longer be valid.  He then called on me to speak.

Here is the text that I delivered.

My name is Fred L Hammond, I am a resident of Northport.  I am also the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa.

Last night, Governor Bentley stated that your role now that the election is over is to represent all of Alabama; this bill does not represent 4% of our people in this state.  This bill causes you to not live up to the role set by our Governor.

Where-ever a similar bill to HB 56, has been passed, be it in Prince William County in Virginia or in Arizona the result has been the destruction of whole neighborhoods and local economies. And while these bills in these other locations also claimed to not use racial profiling, the lives of authorized citizens were repeatedly interrupted by unwarranted stops by police based on “reasonable suspicion.” These locations became hostile environments for American citizens who also happened to have brown skin or spoke with a particular accent.  We must not allow this to happen again in Alabama.

Nor does this bill serve the well being of our municipalities who will be mandated to enforce a law with no consideration of what the economic cost to those municipalities will be.  This body of legislators has not done its homework on what the direct and indirect cost will be to Alabama. Since the state will not be raising taxes to fund the additional work load being requested, municipalities and counties will have to raise their own taxes.  In Prince William County where this bill was first piloted in this nation, the county had to raise its taxes by 33% in order to be in compliance with the law. And that still was not enough to enable full compliance by the local police.  This will happen here in Alabama as well and will cause further collapse of this state’s economy as the poor and middle class fall under its heavy financial burden.

Another result of similar legislation elsewhere was soccer moms were going to prison while murderers and rapists remained on the street.  The courts were mandated to place a higher priority on an immigrant being found guilty of trespassing or transporting an unauthorized citizen to church while the seeking of true justice for the victims of violent crimes were placed into limbo.  This court mandate is in HB 56 as well.   There is already a two year waiting period in Montgomery courts for cases to be heard. This bill will have dire consequences and unforeseen costs to the well being of Alabama.

This bill would potentially criminalize with a felony workers for shelters who are trying to protect their clients from the domestic violence of their spouses.  If the client is an unauthorized citizen, then the worker is in violation of this bill for concealing and transporting an unauthorized citizen.  He or she could have their car impounded, charged with smuggling a human being, and charged with concealing or hiding an unauthorized citizen. The employee could be convicted with two Class C felonies simply for doing their job.

This legislation troubles me as a person of faith on many levels.  Our faith calls us to love mercifully, to act with justice, and to walk humbly with our God.  It is what Christians, Jews, Muslims and many other faith traditions are also called to do in their faith. This bill prevents what good people of faith are called to do and therefore must not be passed.  Thank you.

The next speaker was a proponent of the bill. He immediately launched into an attack wondering what planet I lived on. His body posture was angry and he shouted from the podium at the evils of illegal immigrants.

Then my new acquaintance spoke. She calmly shared some stories about her work in the Hispanic community. She pointed out the sections of the bill that would inadvertently target them. She provided some facts regarding immigrants in the state.

The next speaker was a former Minuteman from the southwest. He also yelled and screamed about his first hand knowledge of what these illegals do to Americans. I think I am beginning to see a pattern. And sure enough those who were for this bill were angry, emotional, and offered no facts to support their stance. Those who were against this bill or might have been in favor of the concept of the bill but against certain sections of the bill were calm, reasoned in their speech.

Because I had gone first, those who were vehemently for this legislation would reference my statement and attack it or would glare at me as they referenced it. Here are two examples of comments that were made. “I hope this committee is not buying these buckets of compassion.” “Yes, Christians are called to love mercifully, that is why we have missionaries to go into their countries to fix them there [italics mine] so that they do not have to come here.” During this speakers direct reference to my testimony, I caught Rep. Hammon staring at me from the chair’s bench. I do not know what was going on in his mind but he was startled when he realized I caught him.

In all there were about 10 speakers who were against this legislation and six who were for this legislation. At the end of the speakers, Rep. Hammon spoke again. He stated that it costs Alabama $200 million a year to educate unauthorized children and provide emergency medical care to unauthorized citizens in the state so while there will be municipality costs to his attrition through enforcement bill it will be outweighed by the savings. This figure is totally fictional.

First, public schools are mandated by the federal government to provide a quality education to children K-12 irrespective of citizen status. Therefore, we simply do not know how many undocumented children there are in Alabama’s schools as it is data not taken. [Watch out this will be coming.] Second, hospitals also do not know how many of their patients are undocumented and receiving treatment. [Again, watch out Alabama this too may be coming down the pike. These two unknown factors are currently before the Arizona legislation in direct opposition to federal law.] Therefore, since we do not know how many students or how many patients, there is no way to know what the cost is to educate undocumented people or medically treat undocumented people in Alabama.

But as I discovered in listening to today’s testimony bonafide facts are dismissed and raw emotional fear is valued. I have a feeling that I am going to become well acquainted with the Statehouse as this issue moves forward.