A New Fugitive Slave Act?

By Jim Wallis 11-16-2007

A reader asked about my post yesterday:

You say that your opposition is close to making Christian ministry illegal. Would you care to elaborate on this? What sorts of ministries are being made illegal? Where is this being done? What laws are being passed that would hinder ministry?

The best example is the law recently passed in Oklahoma which makes it a " felony for U.S. citizens to knowingly provide shelter, transportation, or employment to illegal immigrants." If a person comes to the door of a church-run homeless shelter, saying he is illegal and needs a place to sleep, it is a felony to offer him a bed. And churches in Oklahoma across the board have spoken against this new law.

The Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma this week passed a resolution saying,

"While we do not intentionally harbor or employ illegal immigrants in our work, neither do we screen or profile individuals before we minister to them in the name of Jesus." Robert Wilson, chairman of the resolution committee, offered an example: "If someone comes to my office and needs a ride to the hospital, my higher obligation is, 'Man, I'll give you a ride to the hospital.' It's not to say, 'Let me see your green card first before I help you.'"

Previously, the Most Rev. Eusebius J. Beltran, archbishop of Oklahoma City, and 10 parish priests signed a pledge of resistance, saying, "we are standing together in opposition and defiance of this unjust and immoral law." The evening before the law went into effect, Bishop Edward J. Slattery and more than a dozen priests celebrated a special Mass dedicated to immigrants at St. Francis Xavier Church in Tulsa. "As baptized members of Christ, we cannot be silent or complicit with those who abuse the God-given dignity of the children of God," Bishop Slattery said in his homily at the Mass.

The Oklahoma Conference of Churches, representing 16 Oklahoma denominations, called the law a "disastrous effort" in its statement of opposition. The conference includes the Roman Catholic, United Methodist, Presbyterian Church USA, Episcopal, and Evangelical Lutheran Church of America denominations, among others.

An Oklahoma attorney wrote in the Edmond Sun (OK) that the new law was a reminder of 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. William F. O'Brien said,

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made it a crime for a citizen to harbor a runaway slave or to offer any assistance to slaves who had run away from their masters.

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