New York Times reporter Campbell Robertson reported Sunday from Cullman, Ala., “Alabama Law Criminalizes Samaritans, Bishops Say.” The Times showed an unusual and convenient respect for Southern Christians who are taking a liberal and paranoid stand on a new state law against illegal immigration -- the issue perhaps most likely to bring out the Times’s liberal bias.
On a sofa in the hallway of his office here, Mitchell Williams, the pastor of First United Methodist Church, announced that he was going to break the law. He is not the only church leader making such a declaration these days.
Since June, when Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican, signed an immigration enforcement law called the toughest in the country by critics and supporters alike, the opposition has been vocal and unceasing.
An Episcopal bishop, a Methodist bishop and a Roman Catholic archbishop, 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,” said Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi of Mobile, “attacks our core understanding of what it means to be a church.”
While church leaders have spoken out against similar laws elsewhere, Alabama is the only state where senior church leaders have gone so far in formal, organized opposition. But the law in Alabama, a state with an estimated 120,000 illegal immigrants, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, goes further than any other.
Robertson ran with the liberal paranoia on display:
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.
Framers of the law say this is broadly exaggerated. The provisions, they say, clearly pertain to human traffickers or employers actively seeking to skirt the law. Churches, or people simply acting as Good Samaritans, were not intended as targets of the law, they say, nor would they be singled out in practice.
Robertson didn’t shy from the old Southern racism angle.
State Representative Micky Hammon, a Republican and one of the law’s sponsors, said some church leaders had asked that a passage be included in the law that would exempt churches from certain provisions. But every attempt at writing such a passage ended up creating an unacceptably large loophole, he said, adding that any necessary adjustments to the law could still be made.
For some church leaders, the issue cannot be cut free of the weight of Alabama history.
The need for language forbidding racial profiling and the frequent failure by those discussing the law to distinguish between illegal immigrants and Hispanics in general give pause to opponents, even if they agree that current federal immigration policy is not working.