In the 1960s, the civil rights movement followed the example of Mahatmas Ghandi and adopted the practice of breaking the law to acheive a moral purpose. It was known as civil disobedience. In Los Angeles, the nation’s largest Roman Catholic diocese, Cardinal Roger Mahoney has suggested that he may make civil disobedience a religious obedience.
It has been a long time since this country heard a call to organized lawbreaking on this big a scale. …If current efforts in Congress make it a felony to shield or offer support to illegal immigrants, Cardinal Mahony said, he will instruct his priests — and faithful lay Catholics — to defy the law.
While it’s easy to see that a nation must have appropriate means for controlling the traffic of non-citizens across its borders, the moral waters become turbid for anyone imposing penalties for illegal immigration.
The cardinal’s focus of concern is H.R. 4437, a bill sponsored by James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin and Peter King of New York. This grab bag legislation, which was recently passed by the House, would expand the definition of “alien smuggling” in a way that could theoretically include working in a soup kitchen, driving a friend to a bus stop or caring for a neighbor’s baby. Similar language appears in legislation being considered by the Senate this week.
Cardinal Mahony’s declaration of solidarity with illegal immigrants, for whom Lent is every day, is a startling call to civil disobedience, as courageous as it is timely. We hope it forestalls the day when works of mercy become a federal crime.
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