My Shabbat Message for Shabbat June 15, 2018
As you are likely aware, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently employed a Biblical text to justify the Administration’s “zero tolerance” approach to immigration and the resulting policy of separating children from their parents. He stated,
“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.”
When asked about this, White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders doubled down stating that it is “Biblical to enforce the law.”
Many religious leaders and organizations have pushed back and taken issue not only with the current policy that results in family separations but also with the recent decision to restrict the application of “asylum” and the use of religious text to justify such policies.
For example, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops stated,
“Families are the foundational element of our society and they must be able to stay together. While protecting our borders is important, we can and must do better as a government, and as a society, to find other ways to ensure that safety. Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral.”
Similarly, our Reform Movement joined with 26 other national Jewish organizations in a letter to the Administration expressing opposition to the current “zero tolerance” policy of separating children from their migrant parents when they cross the border.
It urges the Administration to “rescind the ‘zero tolerance’ policy and uphold the values of family unity and justice on which our nation was built.” (Read the letter in full.) https://rac.org/blog/2018/06/13/jewish-organizations-trump-administration-families-belong-together
Leaving aside the many moral issues with regard to this policy, there is also the issue of the religious text itself.
When religious organizations challenged the policy, AG Sessions started,
“… I am a law officer. A law officer for a nation-state. A secular nation-state. Not a theocracy. It’s not a church.”
I could not agree more. As I have written numerous times, religious morals and text serve as the underpinning of the moral perspective that guides many of us to support or oppose specific policies. Those texts do not, however, belong IN the discussion and debate that takes place on a governmental/policy level.
AG Sessions knows this. As the top law officer of the United States he understands this separation. He knows we are “a secular nation-state. Not a theocracy.” That is the very basis of the separation of church and state. Why then, did he employ a religious text as a prooftext for his policy?
Moreover, if he does want to cross that line, (a line I fully support maintaining) there are other religious texts I would encourage him to consider going forward. Here are a few:
“You shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger; I am Adonai your God.” (Leviticus 19:10)
“You shall do no unrighteousness in judgment; you shall not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty; but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.” (Leviticus 19:15)
“If a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. But the stranger who dwells with you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt; I am Adonai your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)
“Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people.” (Isaiah 10:1-2)
The separation of church and state is in the Constitution. It makes clear that religious text has no place in US government policy. But if AG Sessions insists on such proof texts, perhaps he might consider employing those that balance the rule of law with compassion.
Rabbi Daniel Cohen