Alabama’s Shame Deepens

Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light.

Yesterday, the hearts of state legislator’s decided that immigrants are not human beings worthy of fulfilling their dreams in this country like others but rather a threat to America.  The legislature chose to ignore the increased pressure from religious leaders to turn away from injustice towards justice.

They passed the substitute bill of HB 658 written by Senator Beason which included what is being called a scarlet letter provision where any undocumented resident who is arrested on any charge and appears in court would have their information posted on a public online forum searchable by county and judge.

This was not in Rep. Hammon’s  proposed version of HB 658 which was passed in the house before it went to the Senate. When on the last day of the session the senate version passed and went back to the house, Rep. Hammon in telling the house the changes to the bill failed to mention this drastic addition to his colleagues.  The house did not have time read the bill  before Rep. Hammon explained the justifications for the changes in the bill.  After Rep. Hammon gave his justifications for the changes, there was a call to have the bill read again to enable the representatives to hear again how these justifications related to the bill.  This request was denied by the Speaker.  It is therefore very likely that once again the representatives did not know what they were passing.

Governor Bentley said he would not sign this bill. He has ten days to veto or sign the bill, if he does not it becomes an automatic veto. He has placed immigration back on the agenda for a special session that still needs to address such issues as redistricting and bonds.

He specifically stated he dislikes the scarlet letter provision calling it a public relations problem.    The Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice calls it a “public safety problem” because there can be only one purpose of such a provision: The implicit permission for vigilantes to take matters in  their own hands and cause emotional and physical harm to people living in this state.

During the day yesterday there were cries for non-compliance to this law.  Seven of my friends, part of a group I belong to called Alabama’s Conscience,  were arrested for their attempt to block legislator’s from making this vote.  They prayed and sang songs. They were charged with disorderly conduct.

When hearts have grown so very cold to see no violation of human dignity, no violation of moral ethics in breaking apart families in these laws, then the conscience must step up and intervene. It becomes our moral duty to not comply with this law in the quest to break open the hearts of others to see what this law is doing to all Alabamians in order for justice to prevail.

After the vote, our own hearts literally broke that our own leaders would seek to cause violent harm against another.  And while their actions may not be in the form of physical violence, their actions are committing emotional and spiritual violence, not only to immigrants, documented and undocumented, but also to their very souls.

We pray for the salvation of Alabama and for all of America. We are even more  resolved to continue being Alabama’s Conscience and we will continue doing all that we can  to non-violently show the pain this law is causing all of us. It means we will not comply with this law. We will not allow hatred to proliferate in our state.

How we will be in non-compliance with HB 658 and HB 56. Photo by ACIJ


Published in: on May 17, 2012 at 2:29 pm  Comments Off on Alabama’s Shame Deepens  
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North Carolina’s vote

When I heard of the news that North Carolina had voted to place its ban on same sex marriage in their state constitution, a constitution that was last revised to ban interracial marriages, my heart just broke.

Two songs came to me which seemed appropriate in my twisted mind,  especially when juxtaposed with each other .


Doctrine of Discovery

Sermon given on May 6 2012 © Rev. Fred L Hammond to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa.

It seems appropriate that we should be talking about this Doctrine of Discovery in light of this past weeks events because the two are directly related to how we, as people of the United States are conducting our policies towards immigrants here in Alabama and in the nation.

The Doctrine of Discovery also called the Doctrine of Christian Discovery is founded on a series of papal bulls or edicts written between 1452 and 1493.  The first was from Pope Nicholas V in 1452 called the Dum Diversas. It states the following:

” We grant to you (King of Portugal)  full and free power, through the Apostolic authority by this edict, to invade, conquer, fight, subjugate the Saracens (Muslims) and pagans, and other infidels and other enemies of Christ, and wherever established their Kingdoms, Duchies, Royal Palaces, Principalities and other dominions, lands, places, estates, camps and any other possessions, mobile and immobile goods found in all these places and held in whatever name, and held and possessed by the same […]and to lead their persons in perpetual servitude. [i]

This edict gave sanction for Portugal to invade Africa, take its resources, and begin what was to be called the African Slave Trade.

The second edict Romanus Pontifex  also written by Pope Nicholas V in 1455 followed up on the first papal bull confirming Portugal’s right to dominion over all lands discovered and / or conquered from the Saracens and pagans and it reaffirmed the enslavement of these people.  This edict was written to prevent other Christian nations from colonizing lands that Portugal laid claim.  The third edict Inter caetera written by Pope Alexander VI in 1493 gave the right for explorers and nations to lay claim on lands unknown to Christians. It added a clause requiring the proselytizing of the inhabitants to Christianity.   It also gave permission for Christopher Columbus  in 1493 to lay claim to the lands he set foot on for Spain.

It is this Doctrine of Christian Discovery based on these three papal bulls that became the basis for the United States claim to the Americas. The assumption here was that once the Europeans were no longer the rulers, the authority to subjugate new lands in the Americas fell on the emerging nation.

The US Supreme court in 1823, in Johnson v McIntosh used the doctrine to state that Johnson had no claim to the land he purchased directly from the native peoples because the land already belonged to the US government.  This ruling meant that the indigenous people only had the right of occupancy so long as the US government allowed it and could at anytime revoke the right of occupancy.  This was upheld in the US Supreme Court ruling of 1831; Cherokee Nation v Georgia.  Justice Marshall wrote that “the relationship of the tribes to the United States resembles that of a ‘ward to its guardian’.[ii]”  This resulted in the trail of tears when Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee-Creek, and Seminole were moved to “Indian Territory” known as present day Oklahoma.

We see this doctrine in the footprint of Manifest Destiny, the belief that the United States should expand from coast to coast.  Historian William E. Weeks suggested three themes were in the concept of Manifest Destiny:  1) The virtue of American Institutions; 2) the mission to spread these institutions thereby redeeming and remaking the world in the image of the US; and 3) The Destiny under God to do this work. [iii]

The first of these themes is today heard in the concept of American Exceptionalism, the belief that America has not only a unique role to play but a divine calling in spreading liberty and democracy in the world.  It is American Exceptionalism that feeds the erroneous belief that America is the greatest country ever, that might makes right, and that we have the right to be the police unto the nations and thereby interfere in the internal and external affairs of nations, even to intervene with force the over throw of governments we no longer approve of, regardless of whether they were democratically elected or not.  America in playing out this exceptionalism interfered with the governments in Latin and South America through out the 20th century and with governments in the Middle East contributing to the current crisis that is ongoing.  All of these policies are grounded in the papal bulls that were written over 550 years ago by Popes of the Roman Catholic Church.

And we recently saw the Doctrine of Discovery in Candidate Newt Gingrich’s vision of a Moon colony that would then become a state of the United States. While many people scoffed at his vision, it is rooted firmly in this Doctrine of Discovery; we plant our flag, we claim it by colonization then it is rightly ours and ours alone to exploit as we choose. And if there really is a man in the moon, then he must be enslaved to the invading forces.

In a sermon recently given by Rev. Matt Alspough[iv], he states, “So we’ve based a significant part of our American political practice on the Doctrine of Discovery, that small act of political expediency enacted by the Catholic Church. We’ve seen that American acceptance of this Doctrine opened Pandora’s Box out of which poured many of our society’s ills: the slavery of Africans as economic practice, our most tragic war over that practice, and the morass of racism that continues to this day. It framed our treatment of indigenous peoples in our country, a history of forced relocation and genocide, imposing on them western religion and practices, sometimes taking their children from them. It has influenced our confusion about immigration, particularly the migration of indigenous peoples in the Americas, many of whom are on the move because United States policies in Latin America have limited economic opportunities for these people.”

This brings us right up to our present day, doesn’t it?  This is the reason why it is important to understand our history, even history that is over 500 years old still has an impact on the decisions, on the values, on the culture we express today. And the people who make these decisions in places of authority might not even have a clue as to what they are reinforcing because to them it seems so natural, so logical, so matter of fact that of course this is the way it must be. Surely the pilgrims and the puritans who came to these shores would have repudiated anything that came from Catholicism had they fully understood the source of their alleged superior dominionist attitude.  Well, perhaps not, since such an attitude benefited them in their forging their way on these shores. But the reason as to why we do something a certain way in this country may not be because we consciously chose to do it that way but rather because some racist, Christian supremacist declared it to be the will of god and it steam rolled across the ages and became part of our cultural DNA.

So here we are 560 years later, still immersed in cultural norms and mores and in laws that seek to place dominion over another people. We still have a belief in this country that we can do whatever we want with the earth, ravage its minerals, its lumber, its water to serve our purposes and to hell to everyone else.

This doctrine influences our water access in the southwest.  We know we absolutely know that the rain that falls in the Rocky Mountains and enters the Colorado River supports life through out the desert on its route to the Gulf of California.  But our laws state that if the water falls on United States then it belongs to United States and so we seek to trap it in the desert with major dams across the Colorado River. We then catch the overflow by other avenues so that we can water the non native grasses and water hungry potato farms and supply water to swimming pools in communities like Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tucson.

We are not being sensible when it comes to water in the southwest, yet because of this ingrained doctrine of domination over the land and its native peoples we take what we want for our own greedy purposes and privilege. All of these actions are to the detriment of the indigenous peoples and species that live along the border and dependent on the spring runoffs for their survival.   The waters of the Colorado River never make it to the Delta in the Gulf of California causing extinction fears of the rare indigenous species that live in the gulf.

The people who live in Sonora were part of a nomadic tribe that traveled north into Arizona and back south again, a pattern they followed for 10,000 years.  Now the border walls prevent these people from their nomadic customs over land that has been theirs.  The chant that I heard when I was in Arizona for the day of non-compliance was “I didn’t cross the border, the border crossed me.” This is a very real statement.  Two countries, Mexico and the United States, developed borders without regard to the indigenous peoples that lived there.The Doctrine of Discovery was in operation through out the Americas.

As we come to better understand the ancient peoples of this land, we discover that the Aztec’s realm extended far into Georgia.  Many of our immigrants from Latin America today are descendants of the Aztec and Mayan people as well as other indigenous peoples.  So in some ways it could be said that immigrants from Latin America are coming home.

The state of Alabama is playing the Doctrine of Discovery by insisting that it has the right to determine who shall live within our state borders. This is currently constitutional under Johnson v McIntosh but should it be when so many of the immigrants are in fact indigenous people of these lands.  The question really becomes can we continue to tell native peoples where they can and cannot live, when it is the descendants of Europeans who are the non-natives here?

Bruce Knotts, Director of the UUA United Nations Office[v], writes: The Doctrine of Discovery violates human rights on its face.  It states that any Christian discovery of non-Christian people, gives the Christian nation the right to claim the land and enslave the people, which many European nations did all over the world.  The vestiges of these terrible crimes remain with us today.  We have imposed relatively modern borders onto ancient indigenous nations.  These newly established colonial boarders divide indigenous nations.  Families are cut off from each other.  Nowhere is this as bad as it is in our American Southwest, where some families and nations of indigenous people are on one or the other side of the American/Mexican border.  The American government makes no provision for people of one indigenous nation (which may have existed for over a thousand years as a cohesive people) are divided by a border established less than two hundred years ago.  Our immigration authorities make visits and commerce within one indigenous nation divided by the American border nearly impossible to achieve.  The Doctrine of Discovery, purports to give us the right to do what we never should have had the right to do; which is steal the land of others and to enslave the owners of the land we have stolen.  The hard work of restoring justice in this world must begin with a total and complete repudiation of the doctrine of discovery.

We have been asked by our national partners in the fight for true immigration reform to join the Roman Catholic Church in revoking this doctrine.  The Holy See in April 27 of 2010 confirms that the Papal Bull of 1493 Inter Coetera “has been revoked and considers it without any legal or doctrinal value.[vi]” Further the Episcopalians and the Quakers have also passed resolutions repudiating this doctrine.

So while we are in Phoenix for our General Assembly, the UUA has proposed a resolution for us to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery and to urge the Federal government to fully endorse and implement without qualification the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples passed by 144 countries with four votes against. The four votes against this resolution included Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States.  These four countries have large indigenous populations within their borders.

The action of civil disobedience that I performed this past week is brought into even finer focus with the Doctrine of Discovery as the context in which HB 56 and its revision bills are placed.  Tupac Acosta from Arizona speaks frequently about the connection of SB 1070 and the Doctrine of Discovery.  He says, “the purpose of SB1070 was to consolidate the perceptions of some white Americans around the idea of an America that is white in a continent that belongs to them.[vii]

I would suggest that this is what is happening in Alabama as well.   It is time for us to put an end to our domination culture.  It is time for us to live up to our higher ideals and values of loving our neighbors.  As I recently wrote in a blog in response to Governor Bentley’s comment about the bible stating one must always obey the law, I quoted another verse from the chapter he referred to:  Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. May we strive to always fulfill the law.

[iv] Sermon: Doctrine of Discovery – Rev Matt Alspaugh, Unitarian Universalist Church, Youngstown, OH as found at

[v] Human Rights Violation – Bruce Knotts, Director UUA United Nations Office as found at

Love Does No Harm to a Neighbor

“If they read what I read in the Bible, the Bible says you always obey the law,” said Alabama Governor Bentley in response to Alabama’s Conscience act of civil disobedience against HB 56 on May 3, 2012, National Day of Prayer.

(photo by L. Robledo)

Governor Bentley is in need of some Bible lessons.  If his statement is true, then Jesus would not have stopped the stoning of the woman caught in adultery because the law must always be obeyed.  If his statement is true, then Jesus would not have healed on the Sabbath because the law must always be obeyed. If his statements are true then the Boston Tea Party in 1773 by the colonists would not have happened because the law must always be obeyed.  If his statements are true, then the Declaration of Independence would never have been written or signed because the law must always be obeyed.

If his statements are true then Alabama’s Governor George Wallace’s statement of “Segregation now, Segregation tomorrow, and Segregation forever” would still be the law of Alabama because the law must always be followed.  Thank God for people of conscience who recognize an unjust law and deliberately disobey to overturn that law.

If his statement is true then Paul, who authored the text that Governor Bentley is referring,  would never have confronted the emperor regarding Christianity because the Christian faith was considered illegal, an act of treason.   So even Paul did not believe one must always obey the law.

This statement of Bentley’s reveals that he has no understanding of his own faith tradition of Christianity.  His own faith as a Baptist came about because people of conscience disobeyed the law.  It was illegal to be of any other faith than Anglican when John Smyth declared his Baptist faith.  But if Governor Bentley is correct that the Bible says you always obey the law, then his own faith is illegal, twice over because John Smyth broke the English law decreeing the Church of England as the one faith and the Church of England broke the law when it severed ties with the Roman Catholic Church over the doctrine of divorce–another law that according to Bentley’s argument must be obeyed.  Remember that church law and civil law were one and the same in the time of the reformation.  There was no separation of church and state.

The context of Romans 13 which Bentley refers also includes Romans 13: 6 and following: This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.  Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Love does no harm to a neighbor.   No harm.  That is the criteria in which to obey the laws of government, the Bible states. Yet, HB 56 does do harm to our neighbors.  Our Immigrant neighbors are working hard, paying taxes, building up the community, creating businesses which strengthen the economy.  Immigrant neighbors with the same expressed dreams for a better life for their children.  This law seeks to rid our communities of people who are doing no harm, who are loving and caring for their community.  Governor Bentley noted this in his commemoration speech regarding the anniversary of Tornado recovery efforts in Tuscaloosa when he referred to the status of citizenship of those who were first responders.   Governor Bentley loves undocumented people when they are of usefulness to him but otherwise he has disdain for his neighbors who seek to make Tuscaloosa a better place for all to live.

This law has encouraged people to express their bigotry and prejudice against their neighbor.  Therefore any law that causes harm to their neighbor, using Bentley’s argument of always following what the Bible says, is not a law that is to be obeyed.  Such a law must be disobeyed. It must be broken time and time again because it goes against a higher law, which is the law of Love.  I choose to stand on the side of Love.