The Sanctuary Movement Poses a Challenge to the Defenders of Religious Liberty

Since Trump was elected, we’ve been hearing a lot about sanctuary cities. One of his first executive orders was to block federal funding to them. While it remains unclear what exactly we mean by the term sanctuary city, it is most often used to describe places that limit how local law enforcement can cooperate with federal immigration agents.

But the term sanctuary actually has religious roots in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

“The idea comes from the original Judeo-Christian concept of Sanctuary, where persons fleeing the law could go to places of worship and be protected.” In the Old Testament, God commanded Moses to set aside cities and places of refuge in Canaan where the persecuted could seek asylum.

Those ideas have been embraced by historical movements from the Underground Railroad during slavery in the U.S. to providing sanctuary to Jews during World War II.

But it was during the 1980’s that a self-described Sanctuary Movement was launched in this country. At the time, there were refugees arriving from violent crackdowns by dictators (often supported by the U.S. government) in Central America. The policy of the Reagan administration was primarily to detain and deport those who sought asylum from those regimes. As a result, churches opened their doors to provide shelter and support – denying entry to federal officials.

Needless to say, the election of Donald Trump has re-ignited the Sanctuary Movement.

Currently over 700 churches/congregations have pledged to join the movement. As they begin to actually provide sanctuary to immigrants who are targeted for deportation, that poses an interesting challenge for conservatives who have been so vocal about religious liberty. Do their beliefs about that apply only to those they agree with politically, i.e. on LGBT rights and abortion?

One of the champions of religious liberty just so happens to be the man Donald Trump nominated to the Supreme Court – Neil Gorsuch. I hope that someone on the Judiciary Committee will ask him during his confirmation hearings if his views on this subject extend to the religious liberty of those who would provide sanctuary to immigrants targeted for deportation. That might become a very relevant issue as the Trump administration ramps up to deport ’em all.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.