I knew the kerfuffle over Arizona's tough new immigration law had to be choc-o-bloc full of religious ghosts, and I kept waiting for this angle to work its way into the coverage of the topic. Well, Cardinal Mahony of the Los Angeles diocese decided to kick start things a bit, as you can probably tell from this Associated Press headline:
LA cardinal: Nazism in Arizona immigration bill
Well, alrighty then. Mahony is not a fan of the legislation and had some choice words for it on his blog:
"I can't imagine Arizonans now reverting to German Nazi and Russian Communist techniques whereby people are required to turn one another in to the authorities on any suspicion of documentation," the cardinal said. "Are children supposed to call 911 because one parent does not have proper papers? Are family members and neighbors now supposed to spy on one another, create total distrust across neighborhoods and communities, and report people because of suspicions based upon appearance?"
This is some pretty strong stuff. The AP dutifully reports Mahony's comments along with the broad outlines of the new immigration bill and the ensuing controversy. But aside from pointing out that Mahony's diocese is overwhelmingly Hispanic, it doesn't really provide any religious context. I'm sure not all Catholics or Catholic leaders are necessarily opposed to the new law. How exactly does Mahony derive the moral authority to criticize this law in such harsh terms? The Associated Press doesn't delve into the issue. Fortunately, the Los Angeles Times does a much better job with this. Here's how Times reporter Teresa Watanabe handled it:
In Arizona, leaders from the Roman Catholic Church and other faith communities also criticized the legislation and planned to ask Brewer to veto the bill. In a letter, the faith leaders called on Brewer to show "great political courage" and veto the measure, which they said could hurt the economy by driving down business and reduce public safety by diverting police resources and dissuading illegal immigrants from reporting crime.
Tucson Diocese Bishop Gerald Kicanas, who helped spearhead the letter, said parishes in his diocese have participated in "immigration academies" to learn about the issue and how Scripture and church teachings apply to it. In Leviticus, for instance, God instructs Moses not to mistreat aliens and to welcome them as if they were native-born.
"It's pretty clear that all of our religious traditions speak of welcoming the stranger and assisting people in need," Kicanas said. "I believe this is a drastic, punitive measure that will not benefit the states."
It would be nice if the Times could have gotten some insight on this from Mahony himself, but the fact they weren't able to get Mahony to comment further might not be for lack of trying. In any event, the two stories are a useful comparison. Both stories do a good job of reporting the basic details of the story, but AP story was 11 paragraphs long and the Times story was 14 paragraphs long. Those three extra paragraphs on religion at the end of the Times story really do introduce a whole new dimension of understanding to the story. It's much appreciated.