Church and Justice Department bring lawsuits over Ala. immigration measure

Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi of Mobile
Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi of Mobile


The Catholic Church and the Department of Justice have filed lawsuits to stop the enforcement of Alabama's new immigration law, which Governor Robert Bentley calls the “strongest” in the nation.

“No law is just which prevents the proclamation of the Gospel message, the baptizing of believers, or love shown to a neighbor in need,” Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi of Mobile said in an Aug. 1 statement.

The Catholic archbishop has joined with several Protestant denominations in seeking relief from what they say is “the nation's most merciless anti-immigration legislation.” The clergy claim that the law criminalizes aspects of the Church's mission, interfering with the right to the free exercise of religion.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department filed its own lawsuit on Aug. 1, saying the law intrudes on the federal government's immigration policies and responsibilities.

According to the Justice Department, the recently-passed HB 56 – which is scheduled to take effect Sept. 1 – “interferes with the numerous interests the federal government must balance when enforcing and administering the immigration laws, and disrupts the balance already established by the federal government.”

Alabama's Republican caucus has confirmed that the law “requires law enforcement officers to attempt to determine the immigration status of a person who they suspect is an unauthorized alien of this country.” It also criminalizes the “transport, concealment, harboring and housing of unauthorized aliens,” in a broad manner that critics say will make most forms of assistance to immigrants illegal.

Archbishop Rodi spelled out the law's implications for Catholics in an Aug. 1 letter to the faithful of his diocese.

“This new Alabama law makes it illegal for a Catholic priest to baptize, hear the confession of, celebrate the anointing of the sick with, or preach the word of God to, an undocumented immigrant,” he wrote. “Nor can we encourage them to attend Mass or give them a ride to Mass. It is illegal to allow them to attend adult scripture study groups, or attend CCD or Sunday school classes.

“It is illegal for the clergy to counsel them in times of difficulty or in preparation for marriage. It is illegal for them to come to Alcoholic Anonymous meetings or other recovery groups at our churches.”

The same law, he continued “prohibits almost every activity of our St. Vincent de Paul chapters or Catholic Social Services.”

“If it involves an undocumented immigrant, it is illegal to give the disabled person a ride to the doctor; give food or clothing or financial assistance in an emergency; allow them to shop at our thrift stores or to learn English; it is illegal to counsel a mother who has a problem pregnancy, or to help her with baby food or diapers, thus making it far more likely that she will choose abortion.”

“This law,” the archbishop stated, “attacks our very understanding of what it means to be a Christian.”

In his letter, Archbishop Rodi said he “did not wish to enter into a legal action against the government of Alabama.” He explained his participation in the lawsuit with a reference to his own episcopal motto, “The love of Christ impels us.”

“I do not wish,” he stated, “to stand before God and, when God asks me if I fed him when he was hungry or gave him to drink when he was thirsty, to reply:  'Yes, Lord, as long as you had the proper documents.'”

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