When a federal district court upheld most portions of Alabama's anti-immigration law last week, state officials voiced a triumphant note while faith leaders offered mixed commentary.
"With those parts (of Alabama's anti-immigration law) that were upheld, we have the strongest immigration law in this country," Alabama Republican Gov. Robert Bentley said. (Photo: Sutherland Boswell)
Alabama Republican Gov. Robert Bentley said the judge had upheld "the majority of our law and temporarily ... enjoined only four sections. With those parts that were upheld, we have the strongest immigration law in this country. I believe that all sections of our law will be upheld."
Bentley, a member of First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa, said he had campaigned for a tough immigration law.
"Today's ruling is nothing short of a great victory for the State of Alabama and for those who support the rule of law," said House Majority Leader Micky Hammon (R-Decatur). "Many of the law's most vocal critics, including the Obama Justice Department, the ACLU and other liberal extremists, were simply proven wrong today."
Hammon said, "We are quickly learning that once you cut through the rhetoric of those who seek to protect illegal immigrants, there are no facts to support their outlandish claims against this statute."
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) said the court's ruling was a "significant win."
"Our goal has always been to make sure Alabama jobs and taxpayer-funded resources are going to legal Alabama residents and Judge Blackburn's ruling is a significant win for this cause," said Marsh.
Henry Parsley, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama, called the ruling "good news."
In a statement with William H. Willimon, bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church (NACUMC), Parsley said the decision to enjoin temporarily parts of the law protected church ministries and religious liberties.
"We are still evaluating other aspects of the decision and are unable to comment further at this time," they said. "We believe that our involvement in this case has been necessary and important. We will continue to provide food, shelter, transportation, housing and the church's sacraments to all of God's people, regardless of race, class or citizenship status."
R.G. Lyons, pastor of Community Church Without Walls in Birmingham, and Matt Lacey, director of missions and advocacy for NACUMC, issued a press release about the court's decision.
"Representing the over 150 members of United Methodist clergy from North Alabama who publicly expressed concerns about HB56, we are pleased to see some of the harsh and far-reaching elements of the law have been struck down. We feel that many of these elements, written by members of the State House and Senate who campaign on Christianity, are not representative of the message of Christ who welcomed the stranger despite country of origin or status," read the statement sent to EthicsDaily.com.
"We want to thank Judge Blackburn for her work with this complicated legal case. We continue to maintain the elements of this law that remain in place are incompatible with Christian teaching and we will discuss entering into the appeals process with Bishop Will Willimon and others," they said.
Expressing his appreciation that the court removed from the law a provision related to transporting undocumented immigrants, Gary Furr, pastor of Vestavia Hills Baptist Church, told EthicsDaily.com that "this debate is a long way from being over."
"Merely freeing churches to transport persons to services does not finally address all that is troubling about this bill," said Furr. "Thoughtful Christians need to become well-informed and speak up to their legislators and the governor before the next session."
Mary Bauer, legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization, said that the decision "not only places Alabama on the wrong side of history but also demonstrates that the rights and freedoms so fundamental to our nation and its history can be manipulated by hate and political agendas – at least for a time."
Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), said the decision was a "welcome relief for the residents of Alabama."
Stein said that it "means that other states, burdened by the cost and impact of illegal immigration, don't have to sit idle while the Obama administration continues to ignore their problem."
SPLC labeled FAIR a hate group three years ago.
Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said in a statement that "the state of Alabama keeps making history in all the wrong ways."
Pointing out that the law would burden law enforcement, Noorani said: "Families will be under siege, parents will be afraid to send their children to school, and workers will be afraid to report to their jobs. In the United States of America, no one should have to be afraid to walk down the street because of the color of their skin. This law tramples on the civil rights of all Alabamians."
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