ORLANDO – Since the 1980s, conservatives have aligned themselves with religion and religious organizations – the so-called Religious Right – on a wide range of political issues, from abortion to the Cold War to prayer in school.
But now the founder of a conservative group that opposes illegal immigration says organized religion is quickly becoming the problem, and getting in the way of convincing state and federal officials to enforce immigration laws.
“Religious orders have a goal to save as many souls as possible,” said Jim Gilchrist, founder of the Minuteman Project. “That’s the problem we’re having with all the major religious orders.”
His central criticism: that churches are starting to proclaim that immigrants, even those who have come here illegally, are all God’s children and should be welcomed into this country.
That, Gilchrist said, encourages lawbreaking and sends a green light to residents of foreign nations to come here illegally.
“I have no problem with them saving souls,” he said. “I think it’s great. But when they usurp U.S. law and use their influence to create laws, I have to draw the line.”
Gilchrist was a guest today on The Guetzloe Report, the daily radio program hosted by Doug Guetzloe on the Phoenix Network in downtown Orlando.
Gilchrist founded the Minuteman Project in 2004 after what he said was years of frustrating attempts to get the federal government to enforce existing immigration laws.
He also operates a Web site, http://www.minutemanproject.com/, that reports how different states, as well as Congress, are handling the immigration issue.
“Jim Gilchrist was fighting for this country long before anyone decided to get off their couch and get involved,” Guetzloe said.
Gilchrist said he was concerned about new legislation recently signed into law by the governor of Utah, a conservative state moving in a decidedly liberal direction on the issue of illegal immigration.
Utah Gov. Gary Hebert, a Republican, signed a bill to provide documents to illegal immigrants that would make them legal residents, as long as they are holding a job and have not committed serious crimes. The state’s attorney general, Mark Shurtleff, has asked the Obama administration for a waiver from federal laws that make it illegal to employ people who have entered the United State illegally.
One reason why these conservative Republicans may have moved in this direction is the influence that the Mormon Church holds in Utah, Gilchrist said.
Gilchrist said he believes the church helped sway support in the Utah legislature for the bill, and he said it’s part of a growing trend among leading religious orders calling for more lenient treatment of illegal aliens.
“Why are the religious orders doing this?” Gilchrist asked. “Well, it’s all part of a typical business plan.”
Religious orders, he said, may see immigrants – including illegals – as souls to be saved, or future members of the flock. But he said this humanitarian view could end up making a mockery of the rule of law.
“The message they give is that the law only applies to the weak, the meek, the gullible and maybe the downright stupid,” Gilchrist said. “You have religious orders interfering with the rule of law. I think that’s a violation of the separation of church and state.”
A much better solution, he said, would be for churches – and the federal government – to emphasize that immigrants would be happier making a living in their home country.
Rather than pursuing the American Dream, he said, “In Mexico, have the Mexican Dream. In Honduras, create the Honduras Dream.”
It’s unlikely churches will do this, he said, for fear of being accused of bigotry.
“None of the religious orders want to be labeled as discriminatory,” he said. “This is an ongoing battle with the religious order. I don’t want to attack religious orders. I’m a Christian myself. But I’m a Christian who believes the rule of law comes first.”
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