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Response from Alan E. Brownstein

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?

I cannot speak for Christian clergy as to the impact of the Alabama law on their ministry and religious practice.

But the Torah states:

"You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." Exodus 22.20

"You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt." Exodus 23.9

"When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." Leviticus 19.33

This concern for the stranger is repeated again and again in the Torah.

In my judgment, to the extent that this Alabama law prohibits religious individuals obedient to these commands from treating strangers in their land with compassion and with respect for their humanity, it violates the religious freedom of Alabama citizens.

To the extent that this Alabama law prohibits clergy obedient to these commands from ministering to the spiritual needs of strangers in their land, it violates the religious freedom of Alabama citizens.

Photo of Alan E. Brownstein

Author: Alan E. Brownstein

Alan E. Brownstein, a nationally recognized Constitutional Law scholar, teaches Constitutional Law, Law and Religion, and Torts at UC Davis School of Law. While the primary focus of his scholarship relates to church-state issues and free exercise and establishment clause doctrine, he has also written extensively on freedom of speech, privacy and autonomy rights, and other constitutional law subjects. His articles have been published in numerous academic journals, including the Stanford Law ReviewCornell Law Review,UCLA Law Review and ConstitutionalCommentary. In 2008, Liberty was privileged to recognize Professor Brownstein for his passion and dedication to religious freedom at its annual Religious Liberty Dinner in Washington, D.C.

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