A coalition of Catholic, Protestant, evangelical Christian and Jewish leaders urged Congress on Wednesday (March 1) to reject legislation designed to curtail illegal immigration.
They asked Congress to instead establish a process for illegal immigrants already in the country to earn status as lawful residents, and to make changes to speed up clearance for immigrants waiting to reunite with their families -- a process that can currently take years.
"We call for immigration reform because each day ... we witness the human consequences of an outmoded system," said the joint statement issued by 49 national religious groups. "Changes to the U.S. legal immigration system would help put an end to this suffering, which offends the dignity of all human beings."
The plea comes as some lawmakers are pushing to further tighten security along the U.S.-Mexico border, where they see increased smuggling of drugs and illegal immigrants and a possible entry point for terrorists.
The Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005, recently passed in the House, would require faith-based organizations to ask immigrants for legal documentation before providing them with aid and penalize those that refuse to do so. The bill awaits consideration in the Senate.
The proposal's reach, said Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick,
"would extend to U.S. citizens as well, including those, such as our own parishioners, who offer, in an act of mercy, basic sustenance to an undocumented migrant."
In a Tuesday (Feb. 28) interview with the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony called on the city's 5 million Catholics to support humane immigration reforms. "The war on terror isn't going to be won through immigration restrictions," he said, adding that he would instruct his priests to defy the legislation if it becomes law.
Canadian Supreme Court Sides
With Sikh Student Carrying Dagger
BY RON CSILLAG © 2006 Religion News Service
In an important test of religious freedom, the Supreme Court of Canada on Thursday (March 2) overturned a previous ban and allowed a Sikh boy in Montreal to wear his ceremonial dagger to school.
The high court ruled 8-0 that prohibiting Gurbaj Singh from wearing his kirpan violated the teenager's rights under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, effectively the country's constitution.
The court rejected arguments from lawyers for the Quebec school board that originally implemented the ban. The court concluded there is no suggestion the kirpan, required to be worn at all times by baptized Sikhs, is a weapon or that Singh intended to use it as one.
The argument is "disrespectful to believers in the Sikh religion and does not take into account Canadian values based on multiculturalism," the judges wrote.
Religious tolerance "is a very important value of Canadian society," they added. "A total prohibition against wearing a kirpan to school undermines the value of this religious symbol and sends students the message that some religious practices do not merit the same protection as others."
The case stems from a November 2001 incident at an elementary school in suburban Montreal. Singh's cloth-wrapped kirpan came loose from around his waist and fell to the ground.
The school's principal ordered the 12-year-old to leave the 4-inch kirpan at home, but the boy's family instead enrolled him in a private school and took the matter to court.
In 2002, the Quebec Superior Court ruled Singh could carry his kirpan to school if it was sewn into a heavy cloth and placed inside a wooden sheath worn under his clothing.
The Quebec government appealed and in 2004, the Quebec Court of Appeal struck down the decision, ruling the kirpan had the makings of a weapon and was dangerous. Throughout the legal hearings, the family's lawyer argued that there has never been a school assault committed with a kirpan anywhere in Canada.
Canada's highest court ruled that if the kirpan is kept inside clothing, the risk of it being used for violent purposes or of being grabbed by other students is very low. "There are many objects in schools that could be used to commit violent acts and that are much more easily obtained by students, such as scissors, pencils and baseball bats."
The Supreme Court decision is limited to schools. Since Sept. 11, 2001, kirpans have been banned from all Canadian airlines. They are allowed, however, in schools in other provinces, in Parliament and in the Supreme Court itself.