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Losing the Moral Compass at Holy Name Cathedral

Dennis Byrne 20 May 2010 2 Comments

It had to happen. Religious leaders didn’t take long to deploy their biggest gun in the illegal immigration debate: morality.

As in, “You, me and everyone are morally required to oppose Arizona’s law empowering state and local law enforcement officers to ask, when there is reasonable cause, for proof of citizenship.”

Anointed they may be by their various denominations, but for them to see any immorality in law enforcement officers asking for identification stretches the word’s meaning way out of shape.

When you start flinging around “moral imperatives,” you are rolling out the heavy firepower for people of faith. It is the ultimate cudgel to club opponents of illegal immigration into submission. If you disagree, it’s proof that you are evil, a sinner and headed for hell fire.

And so, “dozens of religious leaders” on Wednesday gathered, as if from on high, outside Holy Name Cathedral to hurl priestly, rabbinical and other denunciations at anyone having legitimate differences of opinion about Arizona’s new anti-illegal immigration law. The insisted that the “moral imperative” is on their side. Listen to what they said:

“We stand in solidarity with all of those people in Arizona, both citizens and those who deserve a path to citizenship, in opposition to this legislation, which has its roots in white supremacist ideology,” said the Rev. Larry Dowling, pastor of St. Agatha Catholic Church, speaking for Priests for Justice for Immigrants and Sisters and Brothers of Immigrants, affiliated with the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. “We feel that the passage of this bill reflects a narrow-minded, xenophobic and racist attitude toward people of color, especially those of Latino ethnic backgrounds.”
White supremacist? Narrow-minded? Xenophobic? Racist?

Two can play this game, your lordships:

Is it moral to cast denunciations about by distorting what the law actually says?

Is it moral to vilify and stereotype as racists, etc. those who support the law?

Is it moral for the community to skip enforcement of a just law, legitimately passed in a democratic process?

Is it moral to act as if innocent citizens don’t deserve the protection of the law?

Is it moral to deprive legal residents of their jobs and livelihoods?

Is it moral to allow millions of people to butt into line ahead of those on the “path to citizenship” who have honestly and patiently followed the rules?

Morality, you see, is not your exclusive domain.

Your argument that the Arizona law is immoral because it unjustly falls unevenly on different people might make you feel good, as if you’re the guardians of the civil rights tradition established in the 1960s. But your argument is more emotional than rational. On this subject, here’s what the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had to say is his Letter from a Birmingham Jail about unjust laws:

“An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.”

The Arizona law, in fact, bears equally on everyone. It does not compel enforcement only upon an individual race or ethnic group, as Jim Crow laws did. In fact, it does exactly the opposite by forbidding racial profiling. Under the law, anyone who is stopped lawfully for, say, a traffic violation, is subject to a request for documents. But only if there is a reasonable suspicion that a person is in America illegally, can the person be asked to show documentation. If, in the officer’s discretion—something that he exercises everyday—a person is not suspected of being an illegal immigrant, the officer is not required, as some have argued, to check for legal residency.
Now, you might argue that a law that empowers a police officer to ask for identification can be abused, leading to racial profiling, and you’d be right. But that doesn’t make a law authorizing police to ask for a driver’s license, auto registration and proof of insurance immoral. It argues for better enforcement of the law, not its elimination.

Federal law enforcement officers have the same authority to ask for documentation as is provided for state and local officers under the Arizona law. Why, I wonder, have the reverends waited for Arizona to pass an identical law before discovering its so-called immorality?

There’s lots of room to argue that the law is unwise. But that’s a political argument, not a moral one. Engaging in moral finger waving might make some folks feel better. But it weakens the legitimacy of the moral argument when it’s really needed.

2 Comments »

  • Dan Kelley said:

    Presidents Calderon and Obama have overplayed their hands and angered many Americans in the process.

    If the hypocrisy of the Mexican government, which requires all foreigners to carry identification papers and restricts the ability of foreigners to hold employment, was reduced to water, the Cathedral would be washed away in the flood. The only survivors would have to take refuge in an ark for forty days and nights.

  • Geo. said:

    Joe Legal verse Jose Illegal

    You have two Families: “Joe Legal” and “Jose Illegal”. Both families have two parents,two children, and live in California .

    Joe Legal works in construction, has a Social Security Number and makes $25.00 per hour with taxes deducted.

    Jose Illegal also works in construction, has NO Social Security Number, and gets paid $15.00 cash “under the table”.

    Ready? Now pay attention…

    Joe Legal: $25.00 per hour x 40 hours = $1000.00 per week, or $52,000.00 per year. Now take 30% away for state and federal tax; Joe Legal now has $31,231.00.

    Jose Illegal: $15.00 per hour x 40 hours = $600.00 per week, or $31,200.00 per year. Jose Illegal pays no taxes. Jose Illegal now has$31,200.00.

    Joe Legal pays medical and dental insurance with limited coverage for his family at $600.00 per month, or $7,200.00 per year. Joe Legal now has $24,031.00.

    Jose Illegal has full medical and dental coverage through the state and local clinics at a cost of $0.00 per year. Jose Illegal still has $31,200.00.

    Joe Legal makes too much money and is not eligible for food stamps or welfare. Joe Legal pays $500.00 per month for food, or $6,000.00 per year. Joe Legal now has $18,031.00.

    Jose Illegal has no documented income and is eligible for food stamps and welfare. Jose Illegal still has $31,200.00.

    Joe Legal pays rent of $1,200.00 per month, or $14,400.00 per year. Joe Legal now has $9,631.00.

    Jose Illegal receives a $500.00 per month federal rent subsidy. Jose Illegal pays out that $500.00 per month, or $6,000.00 per year. Jose Illegal still has $ 31,200.00.

    Joe Legal pays $200.00 per month, or $2,400.00 for insurance. Joe Legal now has $7,231.00.

    Jose Illegal says, “We don’t need no stinkin’ insurance!” and still has $31,200.00.

    Joe Legal has to make his $7,231.00 stretch to pay utilities, gasoline, etc.

    Jose Illegal has to make his $31,200.00 stretch to pay utilities, gasoline, and what he sends out of the country every month.

    Joe Legal now works overtime on Saturdays or gets a part time job after work.

    Jose Illegal has nights and weekends off to enjoy with his family.

    Joe Legal’s and Jose Illegal’s children both attend the same school. Joe Legal pays for his children’s lunches while Jose Illegal’s children get a government sponsored lunch. Jose Illegal’s children have an after school ESL program. Joe Legal’s children go home.

    Joe Legal and Jose Illegal both enjoy the same police and fire services, but Joe paid for them and Jose did not pay.

    Do you get it, now?

    If you vote for or support any politician that supports illegal aliens…

    You are part of the problem!

    It’s way PAST time to take a stand for America and Americans!
    What are you waiting for? Pass it on.

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