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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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.

Hallelujah!

Tommy was a very devout young man.  He was living with severe retardation and cerebral palsy.  His total vocabulary was at best 150 words but he communicated well with his infectious smile and easy laugh.  He enjoyed riding his adult tricycle in the parking lot of the habilitation facility where I worked for several years.  He would often be seen riding his tricycle and singing songs of praise to God.  Tommy viewed God slightly differently than most and yet his view of God might rival the leading theologians.  He would sing, “All praise God in Heaven.  All power glory to Him in de Highest.  Hail Mary and Dracula Power forever and ever. Amen.”  You see, Tommy combined good and evil into one source. And if good and evil were closely aligned then why not recognize that fact in worship.

I think Tommy was on to something.  We have all faced tragedies in our lives. And if we haven’t, I guarantee, that at some point in our lives we will deal with some level of misfortune.  Misfortune will come either to our beings personally or to someone close to us in our daily circles.  So if this is true, then wouldn’t it be better to accept this rather than trying to avoid and ignore the tragedies?  Is there a different way for us to approach and deal with tragedies?

Our story this morning about Joseph who was his father’s favorite had tragedy bestow upon him. Now perhaps he shouldn’t have bragged to his brothers about his dream of them bowing down before him, but he was a little kid after all.  He was probably tired of the taunting and sibling rivalry his brothers threw at him and so a little bragging, a little gloating, probably felt good but it did land him in trouble.

His brothers took things too far in putting him in his place in the pecking order.  Stripping him of the special coat made for him was humiliation enough, but then to toss him into the cistern and then sell him into slavery into an unknown, unsafe future is beyond the normal scuffles that brothers partake in.  And to then tell a tale of woe to their father was over the top injury because it was not just the father who would grieve, but each of the brothers as well for their part in a dastardly wicked and evil plot to place their brother in his place.

To act in such a manner requires the coldest of hearts, one that is impervious to feeling compassion for another. How they lived with their evil actions against their brother is not revealed in the story, only that they felt some remorse as the story plays out in Pharaoh’s palace.

Yet, Joseph also had a charming personality which gained him favor in the eyes of those who enslaved him. So he was over all well treated as a slave and even though he was imprisoned falsely, his personality gained him favor within the prison.  He used his talents well and eventually was placed in a position of power that enabled him to save not only himself but also his family who betrayed him.   Hindsight might suggest that providence was guiding these events to unfold so as to save the Hebrews from the famine and drought that was to descend on the region years later.

And whether providence was at work here or not herein rests an important truth.  If we are open to the process of life’s unfolding, life will always win out with new opportunities, new possibilities, new configurations that were unimaginable prior to an unfortunate circumstance.

In my personal life, I have witnessed amazing outcomes from tragedies that should have destroyed the spirit of a people.  In the 1980’s the AIDS epidemic struck with ferocity at the gay community.  People were being expelled from their homes, their schools, from hospitals, from employment when it was learned the person had AIDS.  I remember one mother who struggled with her faith community because her son was living with AIDS and needed someplace to die.  Her church family, where only a few years before he had served as an acolyte, told her to leave him to the judgment of God because this disease was a sign of God’s deep displeasure with her son.  How could she, who gave birth to him, deny him a mother’s love which is as eternal as anything in the human experience?  She chose love over the church and welcomed her son home where he lived his final days.  She was not alone in her response to choose love first.  A community of people drew close together to support one another, to fight for medications to be developed, to fight for justice.

The AIDS epidemic when it violently erupted in America was indeed a tragedy.  It was a tragedy that those who knew the teachings of their respective faith to love, allowed their hearts to grow cold with fear.  Yet, within that tragic unfolding, there were millions of people who said yes to love and welcomed people with AIDS into their lives.  There were people who were complete strangers to one another who felt their hearts expand with love for the other.  Tragedy created an opportunity for a response of love to develop and a new spiritual and compassionate awakening began to sweep over the land.

I saw it again in the days that followed the massive airline hijackings on September 11 2001.  The image of the planes being flown into the world trade towers will forever be etched upon our minds.  Many in the country responded with intense anger against a people of a religion that is not understood here.  And while anger in the short run is understandable that anger has hardened the hearts of many against people of the Muslim faith. Yet, there were a few who chose love over hatred.  A few, who recognized that the actions of a few does not mean this was done in sympathy of the whole of the Muslim world.

In my home town of Danbury, the United Jewish Center quickly responded to protect the members of the local Mosque.  The Jewish men would stand guard outside of the Mosque during prayer and the women would escort the Muslim women while they did shopping to make sure that no harm would come to these neighbors.  Two groups of people, who in the larger context are considered old enemies, came together to support one another during this tragic time in our lives.

This week as well as being the holy week of Easter is also the holy week of Passover.  The time when Jews remember that they were once strangers and slaves in the land of Egypt and therefore are commanded to welcome the other, the stranger so as to not cause the same atrocities they experienced on another group of sojourners. New opportunities to love arose out of those tragic days surrounding September 11th  So few in our country remember that their faith calls them to love anew when tragedy strikes.

Today a decade after those planes went down at the hands of radical extremists; our country has amplified our hatred towards Muslims and foreigners in our land. Instead of finding ways to bring our country together, there are forces that seek instead to divide our country, to segregate our country, to destroy the dream of E pluribus Unum; Out of many, One.

We are now witnessing yet another tragedy unfolding in our midst.  We have families who are being torn apart because of a broken system that encourages xenophobia, which encourages fear of the other, which encourages oppression.  For us here in Tuscaloosa, the passage of HB 56 was coupled with the devastation of a tornado that destroyed thousands of homes in our poorer communities.  Many in the state are responding in a manner that rivals the racist callousness of the Jim Crow era of the 20th century.  The revisions proposed to HB 56 in the form of HB 658 seeks to placate the needs of the strongest opponents: The businesses, law enforcement, and clergy.  It does not address the injustice to a family that is torn apart.

I recently heard of a family where the parents are being deported to Mexico but their child, born in the US and therefore a US citizen has been denied to go with them by Alabama’s Department of Human Resources (DHR) because life in Mexico is no place for a young child.  The arrogance and racism of DHR is appalling and yet it affirms the reason why the family came to this country in the first place—to have a better life.

DHR is not the first institution to decree that children are better off without their parents.   This story was told in Australia in the last century where children born to an Aboriginal parent and a White parent were removed from the Aboriginal parent because the state could provide a better life for the child than the Aboriginal. These children were trained to be servants to white families which was deemed the highest vocation they could attain.  This current tragedy offers us an opportunity to rise up in love.

We are called to love our neighbor as our selves. I cannot imagine anyone of our families wanting the state to determine that our children would be better off in their care than in our care as the children’s parents, regardless of our social economic status.

Therefore, while the revisions to HB 56 would exempt immigrant clergy and missionaries who volunteer their religious services, I cannot in good conscience accept this law when this exemption comes at the price of families being torn apart for no other reason than immigrant status.  It still would be illegal for me as a clergy person to knowingly provide services that would encourage or support an undocumented citizen to remain in this country.  A law I will continue to break because as Martin Luther King, Jr. says, “One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”

What new opportunities, new possibilities to love the other are waiting to be discovered by us?  What doors will open up for us that had not this evil crossed our door we would not have these powerful choices to love before us?

What stories of these days will we tell our children’s children that when we tell it, it will seem in hindsight to have had the hand of providence guiding our path?  Good and evil are closely aligned.  It seems to me when Jesus said to not resist evil; he meant that we must find the opportunities to respond in greater love and in the process find the grace to create good.

The story of the Christian resurrection is about love prevailing over the power of death meant to end once and for all that messenger of love.  The disciples were given a choice in the tragedy of the crucifixion.  They could run and hide, some did. They could deny all knowledge of the man arrested and crucified, some did. They could despair of all hope of redemption and take their life, and some did that too. Or they could grieve the tragedy and choose to embody the message that the realm of love lives within us and ultimately change the world.  Some did that too. Hallelujah!

The Hallelujah they experienced was a cold and broken Hallelujah that Leonard Cohen wrote in the wonderful song Louise sang this morning.  Good and evil closely aligned.  May we have the strength to offer a broken Hallelujah and in the process embody love.  Blessed Be.

Published in: on April 10, 2012 at 3:56 pm  Comments Off on Hallelujah!  
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11th Circuit Court Hearings on HB 56/HB 87

It had rained heavily and so the angels of mercy were kind as we encountered no additional rain as we left Northport at 3 AM CST to be at the court house in Atlanta for 8 AM EST.   I had been able to get in two hours of good sleep before setting out so I wondered how I would fare the drive and the day.

At the 56 Forsyth Street court house the majority of people waiting to sit in on the hearing appeared to be attorneys but in the line waiting to enter were familiar faces.  And across the street immigrants began to gather to carry signs, to march, and to show their outrage that our fair country would seek to bar them from living towards their full potential as human beings. Somos Tuskaloosa members who came with me to Atlanta joined the picket line to make their presence known.  I was grateful the Rev. Jan Tadeo of our Unitarian Universalist Gwinnett County congregation joined me inside.

There were three judges hearing this case: Judge Martin, Wilson, and Voorhees from North Carolina.   Voorhees for the most part remained stoic and silent in the procedures, only offering two or three questions or comments.  He was the hardest of the judges to read.

The disappointing news was the court decided to withhold their judgment until after the Supreme Court rules on the Arizona SB 1070 case.  Several of the sections being contested were similar to that case and they will defer to the Supreme Court case.  This is disappointing because there are other parts of AL HB 56 and GA HB 87 that are not in the SB 1070 statute and unless continued to be enjoined would cause continued harm and humanitarian crisis in our respective states. The judges heard the arguments pertaining GA’s HB 87 law first.

The judges wanted to know how GA HB 87 was different from the 1956 PA vs Nelson case which pertains to a sedition act the state of Pennsylvania passed. The courts ruled that Pennsylvania’s Sedition act over rode the Federal law and states cannot pass laws that do that. Judge Martin stated HB 87 seems to be doing the same thing.

The judges brought out that there are individuals that are without documentation but are allowed to be in this country.  Police are going to look at the plain language of this law and not accept a person who is allowed to be here but not legal.  The police are asked to make this determination of legal status and detention which is squarely placed in the role of federal officers. How does HB 87 compliment the Federal law and not usurp its authority in this matter?

At one point, Judge Wilson wondered if illegal population laws have morphed into a public safety concern and therefore states can regulate for the health and safety of the public; including penalizing people who assist undocumented aliens as part of that public safety concern.

The notion that controlling immigrant populations could be considered a public safety concern like controlling rat populations is a public safety concern sickens me, yet I realized this is indeed the point of view that Georgia, Alabama, and Arizona have taken.

It was the Alabama’s case, where the judges asked the harder questions.  HB 56 includes that undocumented persons are not to enter into any transaction within the state.  Where will the undocumented live, how will they access utilities such as water?  The penalties are harsh, the judges said.  What happens with the individual who is in violation of HB 56, criminalized for their presence within AL, charged and convicted with a felony, and jailed under this law; and then an immigration judge determines the person is free to remain in the country?  Where are they to live?  It is illegal for them to be in Alabama.  What if all 50 states were to pass similar laws?   What makes this law not an expulsion law of immigrants?

The attorneys tried to argue that the State Attorney General did not interpret the law in this manner.  Landlords would not be penalized if they rented without knowing the person’s status, and utilities would not be denied regardless of status.  The judges shot back that we can not elevate the Attorney General’s opinion regarding the law over the face of the law.  You can say the Attorney General said that but where does it say that in the statute regarding water?

Could an illegal alien get a more favorable treatment in Minnesota than in Alabama? Yes.  Is this therefore not a policy of expulsion?  The attorneys for the state said, No this is not the intent.  The judge shot back, I don’t see how this law operates in any other way.  [Rep. Hammon stated this law was to make life untenable in all arenas of life for undocumented immigrants forcing them to leave the state-in short a policy of expulsion.]

Again, if all 50 states had this provision where would an unlawful person live, who was determined to be allowed to remain in the country?  Does the federal government that is in negotiation with another country have the right to determine whether an undocumented person can remain in the country? Homeland Security as the determining voice in the statute would only be able to confirm if person was unlawfully present, not that the person is allowed to remain, that decision might be issued later by an immigration judge.  In the meantime, the person is sentenced and jailed in Alabama as a felon criminal.

The judges asked if the school registration requirement was anything more than a scare tactic.  They wondered how the birth status of a child determines if the parent is undocumented?  Isn’t there the fear that if children are declared undocumented they could then face deportation?  The judges did not state this plainly, but it seemed they were pointing to the 5th amendment regarding not participating in self-incrimination.

The state argued this was at most a classification edict to determine the number of immigrants. While the state could be required by the federal government to release this information to them, that is not the intent of this law.  If this information is sent to the federal government, the attorney general must be notified.  The child has the choice to not self declare their status and will be able to remain in school regardless of status. Judge Martin shot back, but if the student does not self-declare they are presumed to be undocumented so how does offering them a choice matter?

The attorneys arguing for this section to be struck stated that while all students are allowed to remain in school, it is what happens after the point of inquiry of status that also needs consideration.  It is the stigmatizing effect that results in removal of the student.  The attorney is referring to the increased ethnic bullying that is occurring in the schools by both teachers and students, regardless of the students’ status.

It is this stigmatizing and apparent societal permission to expressing racism that is occurring through out Alabama and Georgia as a result of these laws.  People who are casually speaking Spanish in public are being confronted with shouts of being illegal. Citizens who are brown are being accosted by strangers and angrily told to go back to Mexico.  People are feeling justified in their racism because this law exists. When laws justify racism then they are unjust laws that seek not to keep harmony within the community but rather seek to divide it.

More Alabama examples towards the path of Genocide

I recently posted about the eight stages of genocide and made comments of how I see Alabama methodically implementing these stages.  I realize making  such a statement can be seen to be outrageous but I have come to this conclusion through observing what is happening in our state.  I did not make these comments lightly.

Since writing that post The Southern Poverty Law Center has confirmed a report that a school district in Northeast Alabama called their Latino students into the cafeteria and asked them if they knew their legal status in this country.  Those that stated they were undocumented were culled out of the group and were arrested by ICE.

Here is what the law states regarding schools:

Section 28. (a)(1) Every public elementary and secondary school in this state, at the time of enrollment in kindergarten or any grade in such school, shall determine whether the student enrolling in public school was born outside the jurisdiction of the United States or is the child of an alien not lawfully present in the United States and qualifies for assignment to an English as Second Language class or other remedial program.

Here is what Genocide Watch writes to describe stage 6:

6. PREPARATION:Victims are identified and separated out because of their ethnic or religious identity. Death lists are drawn up. Members of victim groups are forced to wear identifying symbols. Their property is expropriated. They are often segregated into ghettoes, deported into concentration camps, or confined to a famine-struck region and starved. At this stage, a Genocide Emergency must be declared. If the political will of the great powers, regional alliances, or the U.N. Security Council can be mobilized, armed international intervention should be prepared, or heavy assistance provided to the victim group to prepare for its self-defense. Otherwise, at least humanitarian assistance should be organized by the U.N. and private relief groups for the inevitable tide of refugees to come.

Which of these statements does the actions of the school district in Northeast Alabama resemble most?  Now granted stage 6 has not been fully implemented in the state of Alabama but it seems to me that the actions of this school district did not follow the law as written but instead jumped to the next logical step of where this law is headed in spirit.  The school district identified and separated out the students who were undocumented and had them arrested by ICE agents.  This is indeed the spirit behind Genocide Watch’s Stage 6.

There was another event this time in Morgan County.  Committee on Church Cooperation, a non-profit organization,  whose mission is to help the poor  has decided that immigrants are not part of its mission, especially if they are undocumented.  The Decatur Daily reports this in their newspaper:

Gayle Monk, CCC executive director, said the organization has had to take extra steps to make sure undocumented immigrants do not obtain food, clothing and other assistance, much of which is donated to the agency by Morgan County churches.
“We thoroughly check everybody out,” Monk said. “We’ve even got wind that a lot of them have illegal Social Security cards. So I’ve tried to educate my staff on what to look for.”
As a condition of receiving assistance, Monk said, applicants must present government-issued photo identification showing residence in Morgan County. They also must provide a Social Security card for every member of the household, as well as documentation of income.
“The majority of the Hispanics, No. 1, can’t speak English when they come in here and, No. 2, have a Social Security card that is fake,” Monk said. …

Monk said the extra attention paid to documentation has been effective.
“It used to be about 10 percent (Hispanics) that we served,” Monk said. “Since cracking down, I haven’t seen anybody, especially in the last month. …

Monk said CCC has no connection to the controversy over undocumented immigrants because it receives no governmental funding.
“We operate strictly off of donations given to us out of the kindness of an individual’s heart,” Monk said.

In the ruling by Judge Sharon Blackburn  she stated the churches did not have a basis on which to argue that HB 56 would impinge on their freedom to practice their faith.  Yet, here is an example of an organization deciding to implement the law using the laws criteria to single out and deny services to people in need.  This organization decided to interpret their religious mission not on spiritual principles but rather on state law.  A response by CCC to criticism of their actions on facebook  states:

“Our acting Board Chairman, Mr. Greg Ethridge, states clearly “CCC’s charter is to serve those in need in Morgan County. Our policy, since 1973, has been that each client served present their proof of residency in Morgan County and thier [sic] Social Security card. This policy is regardless of race, color, creed, religion or nationality.”  

Social Security cards do not provide proof of residency within local municipalities, therefore there is no need to have them as part of this criteria of eligibility.    In this instance it can only be used to discriminate between residents who are citizens and residents who are undocumented which implies that nationality is regarded as a criteria for service by this charitable religious organization.  Comments in the story also suggests there is a bias against those who speak a different language.

Where does this story fit into the stages towards genocide?  I suggest this falls into stage 1:

1. CLASSIFICATION:All cultures have categories to distinguish people into “us and them” by ethnicity, race, religion, or nationality: German and Jew, Hutu and Tutsi. Bipolar societies that lack mixed categories, such as Rwanda and Burundi, are the most likely to have genocide. The main preventive measure at this early stage is to develop universalistic institutions that transcend ethnic or racial divisions, that actively promote tolerance and understanding, and that promote classifications that transcend the divisions. The Catholic church could have played this role in Rwanda, had it not been riven by the same ethnic cleavages as Rwandan society. Promotion of a common language in countries like Tanzania has also promoted transcendent national identity. This search for common ground is vital to early prevention of genocide.

There is the story in the Christian Scriptures where a Greek  woman is asking Jesus for a miracle for her daughter.  Jesus responds somewhat uncharacteristically that it is not right to take food from the children and cast it to the dogs.  The woman bravely responds that even the dogs get a chance to eat the crumbs that fall from the children’s table.  Jesus gives the woman her miracle.

This is not a story that we should be offering the crumbs of our abundance to those who speak a different language.  Nor is it a story that suggests  different Christian and other religious  charities should discriminate between those who are like us and those who are not in offering services.  Rather it is a story that reveals that love transcends the boundaries of race and culture and what we offer to others who are different should be of the same quality and same intention as what we offer those who are similar to us.   Where better to transcend these ethnic and racial categories and boundaries than within the services of a charitable organization whose mission is to help those in need.

There is still time to stop the progression of the effects of this law.  We all must work together to prevent the dehumanization of even one child, one family, one community.  If we do not or if we cannot, we are all dehumanized in the process.

Jericho Walk

The story of Jericho from the Hebrew Bible is about Joshua and the Israelites who defeated the city of Jericho by marching around the city seven times and then with a sound of a rams horn, the walls collapsed. The walls of Jericho in our analogy is HB 56 which seeks to divide our state, our communities, and our families between citizens and the undocumented. This wall of division, wall of hatred, wall of racism must come down in order for Alabama to transcend its history and become a state where all people are free to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

On October 2 I led such a walk around First Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa. This is the congregation that Governor Bentley attends. The congregation, however, offers hospitality to the immigrant community. They offer several English as a Second Language courses to the Latino and the Chinese immigrant communities here. They provide a vibrant worship community for these immigrants which empowers the ability to live here.  They are living their faith tradition which commands its followers to offer hospitality and welcome to the stranger, the foreigner, the immigrant.

So our walk had to be respectful of this ministry and yet point out the contradiction. We decided to thank First Baptist for their hospitality and point out that HB 56, where at least one of their members is a strong proponent, seeks to violate theirs and many others’ faith traditions call to be hospitable.

As we walked around the building, some of the people within looked out the windows and waved. We showed them our signs, “Thank you First Baptist: Hearts Immigrants,” “Somos Tuskaloosa,” “Repeal HB 56,” “Tuscaloosa Welcomes all people,” and “One Family Una Familia.” The on lookers gave us a thumbs up. People in cars going to the church waved. They seemed to get it.

The walls are tumbling down. We will win this. The ram horn of justice is about to blow loud and long.

Members of Somos Tuskaloosa in front of First Baptist Church.

HB 56: Pondering Civil Disobedience

I have been pondering what our next steps should be in response to HB 56 in AL and HB 87 in GA. I confess my understanding of the HB 87 in GA is limited, so my comments here will reflect more on HB 56.

I attended the federal hearing of HB 56 in Birmingham. Judge Blackburn just wasn’t getting the religious argument and the attorney was not presenting a very strong argument to enable her to get it.  In fact, I thought she erred in her strategy altogether. The attorney went doctrinal and this law is not about doctrines but about resources that religious organizations offer in practicing their faith that enable immigrants (undocumented and documented) to remain in AL.  So there is a very good chance that the judge will rule for the state in regard to first amendment rights being violated.

But this is indeed about first amendment rights being violated. And so I have been wondering, what are the next steps?  I have been reading about the New Sanctuary movement.  The original sanctuary movement in the 1980’s was in response to supporting refugees from El Salvador fleeing their country from the US backed civil war. These refugees were not given asylum in the US because the US maintained they were allies with these countries. But this reason hides the deeper truth that the US was providing military training and arms to the governments that were killing their people involved in liberation theology in El Salvador.  So congregations of many faith traditions became sanctuary congregations and gave hiding places to refugees and moved them from congregation to congregation to Canada which was offering asylum.

In 2007 the New Sanctuary Movement was born, “with the goal of protecting immigrant families from unjust deportation, affirming and making visible these families as children of God and awakening the moral imagination of the country through prayer and witness.”  This movement is also comprised of a broad interfaith coalition including the Unitarian Universalist Association.  (See the UUA’s involvement with the New Sanctuary Movement here. )

These congregations support a family undergoing deportation with American born children perhaps by providing meals, transportation to work, and other material and spiritual support.  Congregations may also offer their locations to alternative labor/employer match sites.  I encourage you to thoughtfully examine the New Sanctuary Movement website and pay close attention to what are the expectations and roles of participating congregations as found here.

This site also discusses briefly the federal Immigration and Nationality Act which includes section 1324 regarding harboring.  According to this site, all cases regarding prosecution of this act were aimed at individuals who secretly harbored or concealed but not those individuals who notified INS of the undocumented person’s presence but continued to shelter them.   They surmise the same would be true for congregations who alert INS of the undocumented person’s presence but continue to shelter them. But this has never been tested in court and therefore the UUA legal counsel advises that congregations contemplating this stance to consult with an immigration lawyer.

In most states sanctuary is not a criminal activity but in AL under this new law providing sanctuary or creating sanctuary for undocumented persons is a crime.  Mickey Hammon, State Representative, during the public hearing of his version of HB 56 stated, after I spoke against this bill, that if any congregation has undocumented individuals worshiping in the church that he will ensure that the clergy with the undocumented persons are arrested. He has also stated that HB 56 was to impact all aspects of the immigrant’s life.

I am quite aware that in AL, if we were to have sanctuary congregations we would be asking our congregations to be willing to face the criminal charges as defined in Alabama’s law. People harboring undocumented immigrants could be charged with a class A misdemeanor unless ten or more individuals were harbored and then the charge is a Class C Felony.  What are we willing to risk to create justice?

The religious freedom argument against HB 56 that was not made

The Federal judge, Sharon Lovelace Blackburn heard the three suits against HB 56 today.  While I supported the Department of Justice’s and the Civil Rights suits, I was most interested in the Bishop’s suit that HB 56 infringed on First Amendment rights.

I wished I had been able to track down a copy of the actual complaint because if I had I would have offered an amicus brief  presenting another argument than the one offered in court today.  Judge Blackburn was adamant that the three bishop’s;  Methodist, Episcopal, and Catholic  had not made their case.

The attorney said “If the bishops encourage their clergy and congregations to serve immigrants then the bishops would have exposure to be in violation of the law.”  What?  This is not about the bishops.  This is about seeking to fulfill the tenets of faith that teach to welcome the stranger, to serve the poor, to provide resources that enable the immigrant to live here.

The Judge repeated the question, how does this statute prevent the church from practicing its faith. How does it prevent the freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion?  “Saying it does, does not make it so,” Judge Blackburn stated. As I listened to the judge read portions of the bishop’s affidavit, I would agree.

One of the bishops wrote that this law would impinge on his freedom of religion by prohibiting him from offering counsel to an immigrant pregnant woman where by not being able to receive his counsel she might then get an abortion.  I sat there in horror. This was their argument?

Judge Blackburn simply did not see the argument of infringement because the argument was based on doctrinal beliefs and not on services congregations provide based on living their faith. There is nothing in Section 13 that speaks to doctrinal beliefs and therefore does not impinge on freedom of religion, freedom of speech, or freedom of assembly the judge stated. The Bishop’s example provided was so far fetched and out of touch with what his congregations are doing that I was stunned at the weakness of this argument.

Let me back track with a story.  In Danbury, CT there developed in the 1990’s a large community of Brazilians.  The question arose as to why Danbury as a destination point?   The answer was simple.  Danbury had a well established and large Portuguese community which provided among other things  a Portuguese radio station, a Portuguese newspaper, Portuguese markets, and Portuguese worshiping communities.  Granted these were in continental dialect  Portuguese and not brazilian dialect Portuguese but the language similarities were close enough that their presence provided the resources to enable the Brazilian community to thrive and integrate easily into American society.

Congregations, regardless of faith tradition,  seeking to live out their faith teachings to welcome the stranger and to provide hospitality to the least of these  are providing the resources to enable immigrants to thrive here in Alabama.  HB 56 section 13 specifically states that harboring, transporting, and encouraging immigrants to reside in Alabama is against the law.  The free practice of our religion to provide these services as taught by our collective faiths is impinged and injured when the offering of these resources to immigrants become illegal under section 13.

What are these resources that enable and  encourage  immigrants to live here?  The provision of English as a Second language courses is a resource that will enable immigrants to live in Alabama.  The provision of meals through soup kitchens, food pantries, meals on wheels enable immigrants to live here.  The provision of church run homeless shelters, the provision of worship services in languages other than English allows/  enables/ empowers immigrants to live here. There are other resources that congregations in living out their faith provide immigrants.

Worship services do more than just feed the spirit they provide a place of community; a place where connections can be made for support.  Immigrants coming to Alabama need to find places where they can meet people who are similar enough to themselves in order to thrive.  Churches and congregations are these places because in part they are following the tenets of the faith to welcome the stranger, to feed the poor, to clothe the naked, to house the homeless.

This law on its face  states that actions that allow places of harbor, that transport immigrants to access vital resources  are actions that encourage immigrants to reside in Alabama and therefore are illegal under Section 13. The lawyer attempted to point out that section 13 does not define the terms harboring, transporting, concealing.  She further stated that Section 27 talks about entering into contracts and therefore  congregations could read this as impinging the delivery of church sacraments such as marriage.  The judge did not buy this argument because there have been no cases where a church was not allowed to perform a marriage ceremony according to its faith. The lawyer was not able to state that it was indeed the intention of the legislature to impinge faith institutions in part, I presume, because the bishops were not at the public hearings to report what was said.

When I spoke at the house public hearing, the chair of the committee sponsoring this bill stated clearly that if a congregation has undocumented immigrants worshiping in the church he would personally insure that in addition to the immigrants being arrested, the clergy would be arrested for harboring them.  The Lawyer could not state that as an answer  when the judge stated, “Everyone is exaggerating, it is not going to go that far.”  The legislator who wrote this bill intended it to go that far, I heard him after I gave my testimony against this law at the public hearing.

The best the lawyer could do was state the provision for  church exemption was removed from the senate version of this bill indicating that churches were not exempt to this law.  The judge simply did not buy this as a strong enough statement of intent.

Our hope for this law to be halted whether in whole or in part rests with the much stronger arguments presented by the U.S. Department of Justice and  the Civil Rights suits.  May it be so.

Legal but not Moral

” It’s not a moral issue at all- it’s an issue of legality,”  wrote a commenter on an earlier post. This person wrote further attempting to argue his point.  It is an interesting comment but one that holds very little water.  If obeying the laws of the land were the only determinant of what is moral and just, then this writer has some merit in his argument.  However, there are many laws that have been passed by the US government in its 235 year history that have been legal and immoral.

And there are many examples in other governments where what is legal has not been what is moral.  But let’s just look at American history at the legal laws have been passed that have been immoral.  The laws that were passed that removed the indigenous people from their homelands were immoral.  The laws that enslaved a people were immoral, including the laws that required slaves to show their papers, giving them the right to be away from the plantation, to any white person they met on the road. (Does this sound familiar?)  The laws that banned the vote from non-landholders, women, and blacks.  The laws that sent the CIA, our soldiers, and trained militants from the School of the Americas  (SOA) into combat to destabilize governments in Central and South America (Nicaragua, Columbia, Guatemala, Chile, and Argentina as examples). And laws that then will not grant amnesty to the refugees of these countries because we are allies with the SOA trained dictators.  Laws that banned  interracial  marriage and same gender marriage.  Laws that banned races and genders of people from access to education and employment opportunities. All very legal, but not very moral.

Morality has to do with how we are with one another.  Morality is expressed in how we treat other people.  So when actions are coercive against another, that is considered to be immoral.  The laws that demean another being; whether female, or of another race, or ethnicity, or nationality are also considered to be immoral. Jim Crow laws of the 20th century while very legal were not moral because they went against the very fabric of all of our religions’ tenets that teach us to treat others as we ourselves would like to be treated.

It is therefore deemed as immoral those actions that are done against another that are not of the person’s fault.  Therefore the laws that deport children who were brought here as young children is seen as immoral because to deport them means removing them from the only culture and, in some cases, the only language that they know. The laws targeting children by checking their citizenship status before attending school  and placing families at risk in defiance of Federal law of education regardless of status are immoral.  Deporting young people into Mexico who only speak English and know nothing of that country other than it is the country of their parents is immoral.  Actions that attack the family unit are seen as immoral.  When mothers and/or fathers are deported and children are made wards of the state, this as in immoral act against the family.

The Federal law regarding immigration is an immoral  law. One such federal law, The Secure Communities Act that instead of targeting violent criminals who are here without documentation is targeting the undocumented that if they were able to enter the country legally would make the ideal citizen. But our federal process is racist, convoluted, arduous, decades long to complete, and outrageously expensive. The process itself is immoral and unjust.

The states passing their own versions of attrition through enforcement laws are also immoral laws.   Landlords become accomplices to ICE  by having to check residency papers before being able to rent to people of their choice.  States are targeting churches and domestic violence shelters who transport people to their services, which under these laws are being charged with felonies for human trafficking and harboring undocumented.  These laws are immoral because they limit civil and religious liberties.

Employers are being mandated to use E-Verify, an employment data base that only is able to screen 46% of the workplace with any sort of accuracy. This system does nothing to intercept those engaged in identity theft. Citizens are being told they are not legal in the US to work and are losing their employment. And while a first denial has a limited time window to check for errors, employers are simply denying employment rather than do the legwork to verify the information as correct.  Employees are not being told why they are being let go.  The process is seriously flawed and creates an unjust system that harms peoples ability to support themselves.

The federal and state laws addressing immigration have to be reformed.  There needs to be a humane process for acquiring citizenship in this country.  It can be done and it can be done in a manner that is morally and ethically sound.

Yes, it may be very legal to pass such laws.  But at some point, one has to make a decision as to which law one will obey.  The laws of the land or the laws of conscience that guide our behaviors in how we treat our human family.  I will obey the laws of conscience.  My faith demands that of me.  What does your faith demand of you?

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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