No Legal Precedent, but Lots of Self-Righteousness

A legal scholar weighs in on local governments (think Boston) and churches that are creating sanctuaries for refugees:

While many cities have already begun to declare themselves sanctuary spaces for the undocumented, in fact there is currently no body of law or judicial precedent to which they are appealing.

“There’s really no legal definition of what sanctuary means,” explained Pham. (Even the most recent 1983 Code of Canon Law no longer refers to the practice.)

A bizarre result is that definition of the term “sanctuary” will end up coming from the executive branch.

“The President is threatening to withhold funding from sanctuary cities,” Pham said. “When he writes an executive order to do so, he’s going to have to define what it means.”

Some religious institutions might consider claiming that the declaration of sanctuary is an exercise of the rights afforded to religious organizations under the First Amendment. But that tactic will be of limited use to those seeking sanctuary, Pham said.

Such a claim, he explained, “is going to be resolved through a legal process through the courts, months later. It won’t be resolved then and there. And by that time the undocumented person may have already been arrested and deported.”

Pham also pointed out, “The housing of undocumented people is not necessarily covered under the First Amendment.”

So, the first thing to know, Pham said, is that to declare oneself a sanctuary “is mainly a symbolic statement of support.

In other words, no real help to the refugees, but lots of solace to the self seeking the superior life.


14 thoughts on “No Legal Precedent, but Lots of Self-Righteousness

  1. Whether there is real help can only be determined by asking those undocumented immigrants about their experiences in those cities.

    Should note that those who ran the underground railroad and abolitionists sometimes didn’t have a legal leg to stand on. But the testimonies of those who were delivered from slavery prove they were actually helped.

    Sometimes we need to approach issues more inductively than deductively. And we should note that everyone of us is vulnerable, if not guilty, of self-righteousness.


  2. Sanctuary or not, this whole business is going sideways in a hurry. A prof. from UC was on the news the other night saying that the information they’ve sifted through more or less since 9/11 indicates that most of the attacks and threats from terrorists are internal. That is, they are from those living in this country who have converted to the “sacred cause” and equip themselves accordingly. IOW, just as the Chicago cops have discovered about the gang shootings, they are spread and instigated via social media. The real place to undermine these terrorist activity, then, would be to somehow pull the plug on internet activity, a nearly impossible task. Smoke, mirrors, and grandstanding anyone?


  3. Curt, those who ran underground railroads had the protection of lesser magistrates who didn’t enforce laws on the books, not to mention that the federal government was much much weaker then. But when you die by union through the feds, you live by union through the feds.


  4. It’ll be interesting to see how many Urban Missional Gospel Centered churches are in the refugee business for the long term. When the moral preening gives way to the actual hard work of finding jobs, housing, healthcare, and education for unskilled, non-English speaking, impoverished refugees, will our missional friends be around to provide money, time, and effort? Or will they have moved on to the next gospel-centered missional project? Are the #WeLoveRefugees the new #BlackLivesMatter. Siding with criminals was always problematic for the Gospel Centered Complex but refugees are much more sympathetic than people getting killed while resisting arrest.

    When the posturing is over it is the government (taxpayers) who’ll eventually be taking care of the refugees. Redeemer clones typically often rent space for their services so they can’t offer sanctuary space to anyone. And everybody has forgotten about the thousands refugee kids from Central America from a few years back. Who’s taking care of them? Neither Ann Voskamp, Tim Keller, Russell Moore, or Ed Stetzer is going to be taking care of refugees over the long term. They’ll all have some delightful feature stories about a Syrian family they’ve helped to settle. But everybody knows that eventually they’ll be bored with it and find something else to crow about.


  5. “Whether there is real help can only be determined by asking those undocumented Comm Research professors about their own experience with ethnography…” Oh, good then… Here’s my experience: No, there’s none. Just as there are no good statistics on how any ban might effect refugees who would have preferred the dream of Miami over a detour to Montreal.


  6. See?

    Owen Chadwick devotes a chapter of The Reformation to “the decline of ecclesiastical power.” He reviews the effects of the Reformation on excommunication, the benefit of clergy, church property and the power of the local parish church. Sanctuary was one of the medieval institutions ended by the Reformation.

    Sanctuary rights were already under suspicion in the medieval period: “In the later Middle Ages [sanctuary] became a way of evading justice. In some notorious cases, like the church of St Martin-le-Grand in London in the earthly fifteenth century, a group of men living a public sanctuary became little more than a band of brigands issuing forth from an immune fastness.” Not everyone was a criminal: “nearly 500 people took refuge [at St John at Beverly] in the sixty years before 1538” (380).

    Chadwick estimates that “most governments of the later Middle Ages, including the Popes, attempted to abridge the right.” In the sixteenth century, the “more powerful states” in Europe suppressed what they saw as “anarchism.” Henry VIII “excluded from sanctuary persons guilty of murder, rape, highway robbery, burglary, arson, or sacrilege.” Every Protestant “country abolished the right during the course of their reformation, some more slowly than others.” Roman Catholic countries curtailed the right, much as Henry VIII had, but “it became a matter of principle to maintain it, chiefly as a sign of ecclesiastical independence, despite the manifest inconveniences which it caused.” A semblance of sanctuary is still in force in Italy, where “secular officials shall not exercise their functions in a church without giving previous notice to the ecclesiastical authorities” (380-1).


  7. Darryl, I didn’t want you to miss this from Franklin Graham: “Some are also criticizing Christians who support the president’s position on immigration—and I’m one of those being criticized,” said Rev. Graham. “But we have to realize that the president’s job is not the same as the job of the church.”

    For some reason when I read that, I thought about you- I suppose it is because it is all about youuuuuuuu after all.

    Full article here:


  8. DGH – it’s not just the keyboard anymore; that’s passe’. It’s smartphones, notepads, etc.

    BTW, just the other day I noticed for the first time (aging creeping up) that you have a place for Tweets on your blog site. Is that something new or has it been there for a while? (again, aging creeping up)


  9. Ann Voskamp, whose country is dumping immigrants on us right after CT publishes a puffy profile piece that makes her the Martha Stewart and CT the Plain & Simple Magazine of Evangelicalism. Please! Seems like a nice enough woman, but keep your political off my country. As for Rachel Held Evans, she is Wonder Woman to Rob Bell’s Superman, in the anti-matter Evangelical Universe. John Piper was right: Buh-bye!


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