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Response from Alan J. Reinach

Discussion Question: Does A Immigration Enforcement Law Make It A Crime To Follow God’s Command To Be Good Samaritans?

Earlier this summer the state of Alabama enacted a new immigration enforcement law considered the toughest in the nation. Opposition has been vast and vocal, and legal challenges have flowed in from the ACLU, the Justice Department, and now four local religious leaders.

An Episcopal bishop, a Methodist bishop and a Roman Catholic archbishop and bishop, all based in Alabama, sued on the basis that the new statute violated their right to free exercise of religion, arguing that it would “make it a crime to follow God’s command to be Good Samaritans.”

The law makes it a crime to transport, harbor or rent property to people who are known to be in the country illegally, and it renders any contracts with illegal immigrants null. To some church leaders — who say they will not be able to give people rides, invite them to worship services or perform marriages and baptisms — the law essentially criminalizes basic parts of Christian ministry.

Does this new law violate Alabama citizens’ religious freedom? Why or why not?

Alabama has made it illegal for churches to minister to immigrants lacking proper documentation. Really! So now the deacon has been forcibly recruited to be a surrogate cop, and if he doesn’t comply, he can be jailed! Such state meddling with churches is commonplace in oppressive nations – but in a free society?

Aha! So you see, this Alabama immigration law is really just the tip of the national security state iceberg. Its not the first time. The Church State Council is on record opposing the Arizona immigration law for the same reason – church bus drivers, pastors, deacons, those who pick up folks in the neighborhood and bring them to church – criminals!

You see, the national security state increasingly outlaws everything, subjecting otherwise innocents to coercive police pressure. Will Alabama use the new law to prosecute pastors and church elders? Not in the usual scheme of things. But in the unusual scheme, if a local official has cause to lean on someone, this becomes another tool in their arsenal.

In 1996, Congress enacted a major anti-terrorism bill. It criminalized giving “material support” to terrorists. Little old church ladies who give to charitable organizations like the Adventist Development and Relief Agency may be construed as giving such support, when these organizations work in countries where terrorists operate. At the time, I inquired whether ADRA worked in such suspect places as North Korea, Somalia, and Sudan, and several others, where terrorists may have been operating.

The answer: ADRA had work in all of them.

So if ADRA were doing a development project, say, building a well in a village where some might have been regarded as terrorists, its financial supporters could be accused of violating the law. To my knowledge, the law has not been abused in this way, at least not for Christians. How many Muslim Americans have been interrogated, pressured, arms twisted to turn state’s evidence on the basis of this law, I have no idea.

My point is simply this: when the law over reaches, and makes everyone a criminal, no one is safe. We become helpless pawns at the mercy of the national security state. Increasingly, that is exactly who we are. Your rights exist only to the extent that you don’t matter. As long as you’re irrelevant, you’re safe. As soon as you matter to someone, the mechanisms of the national security state are available to crush you.

So what are we to do about it? Continue to anesthetize ourselves with more of Comedy Central, HGTV, Discovery Channel, or the Food Network? [My teens prefer Speed.] Go ahead! Insure your own security by becoming completely safe and irrelevant. Or, perhaps the Lord has called you out to actually stand for something, and to defend our freedom. A good place to start is by joining the North American Religious Liberty Association, and getting involved in preserving what is left of American freedoms.

Photo of Alan J. Reinach

Author: Alan J. Reinach

Alan J. Reinach is Executive Director of the Church State Council, the religious liberty educational and advocacy arm of the Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, representing five western states: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada and Utah. His legal practice emphasizes First Amendment religious freedom cases, and religious accommodation cases under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and related state civil rights laws. Reinach is also a Seventh-day Adventist minister who speaks regularly on religious freedom topics, and is the host of a nationally syndicated weekly radio broadcast, “Freedom’s Ring.” He is the principal author and editor of Politics and Prophecy: The Battle for Religious Liberty and the Authentic Gospel, and a frequent contributor to Libertymagazine.

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