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Rt. Rev. Kirk Stevan Smith Headshot

Arizona's Anti-Immigration Law: Hurting Immigrants and Criminalizing Compassion

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In 2003, before becoming Governor of Arizona, then-Secretary of State Jan Brewer declared Arizona to be a "Golden Rule State." This teaching, common to most of the world's religious faiths, ("do unto others, as you would have them do unto you") was, as a result, imprinted on special license plates and made available to state drivers. Just two weeks ago, now-Governor Brewer was honored by the Arizona Interfaith Movement for her work in promoting that value, received a plaque, gave a speech, and stood while being applauded for her work promoting the Golden Rule in Arizona.

But by signing the recent anti-immigration bill SB 1070, I believe she now must give that award back.

Many religious leaders in this state feel that Governor Brewer and the Republican majority in our state legislature have not only pandered to our residents' pent-up anger, fear, and frustration with Washington's inaction on the immigration crisis, but have done so in a way that betrays our most deeply held values of justice and compassion.

Much has rightly been said and written about the civil and human rights implications of this new law. Under its terms, police officers will effectively be turned into Border Patrol agents, empowered to stop and interrogate any person whom they have "reasonable suspicion" might be in this country illegally. This must inevitably lead to racial profiling at the hands of overzealous officers, who will take it upon themselves to suspect anyone with brown skin of being a criminal. Not to mention the ruination of lives only because of the accident of birthplace.

But there is another side to this law that is terribly insidious -- the criminalization of any effort to aid or shelter fellow human beings in need. Although I doubt it was the intent of the writers, SB 1070 can be interpreted to make acts as simple as feeding the hungry at a church soup-kitchen, offering water on a 100°+ day, providing a pew to worship God, or even taking children of undocumented workers for a ride in a church-owned vehicle a felony offense.

I don't know any world religion that does not teach compassion, kindness, and love of neighbor. Jesus, for example, commands his followers to love one another as he has loved us. And that to give even a cup of cold water to one who is thirsty is to do the same to Jesus. There is nowhere in the Bible where we are asked to check that person's immigration status first. Human kindness is a central practice of faith, often learned in our very earliest years, and it is universally encouraged. Except, of course, in Arizona.

So basic is love of neighbor to my faith that I believe SB 1070 is in fact a violation of the First Amendment, the free exercise of religion. No government should have the right to punish its citizens for simply following the teachings of Jesus, Moses, Buddha, or Mohammed. For the law of God, the Golden Rule, trumps the state penal code, especially when that code is based on exclusion and hatred.

Either Arizona lawmakers will have to learn that constitutional and moral principle, or they will have to take the Golden Rule off our license plates.