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(This Op-Ed was co-signed by over 25 congregations/religious organizations throughout Dane County –Ed.)

As people of differing faith traditions in the United States, we find it offensive when the attorney general of the United States misuses any religious tradition to justify separating children from their families. As people of faith, we derive our commitment to social justice from the teachings of our respective faiths, but it is entirely inappropriate for a government official to invoke religion in promoting an inhumane policy.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently quoted Christian Scripture – Romans 13 – in defense of his policy of tearing children away from their parents when they arrive at our border, seeking asylum. These are people fleeing from civil war, gang violence, and domestic violence. Border officials often take the children away, some as young as 18 months, under false pretenses of taking them for a bath. The parents realize too late that their children are not coming back, and they have no way to find where they have been taken or contact them. These people are seeking safety and hospitality at our borders, and they are receiving the opposite.

The Scripture AG Sessions cited (Romans 13:1) does indeed read, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God,” but he ignores the context. The following verses explain not only that we are to obey the law, but also lay out an expectation that the laws are made for the benefit of all God’s people. The passage culminates in this admonition: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.’”

While we deplore the misuse of scripture to justify public policy, if our government officials are going to use religious text, there are many others we suggest: “‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born, love them as yourself” from the Hebrew Bible (Lev. 19:33-34: 33). From Christian scripture: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:40).

From the Quran: “And do good unto your parents, and near of kin, and unto orphans, and the needy, and the neighbour from among your own people, and the neighbor who is a stranger… ” (Quran: An-Nisa (4:36)). From the Baha’i: “Be a home for the stranger, a balm to the suffering, a tower of strength for the fugitive” (Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh).

Faith traditions around the world teach versions of the Golden Rule. We encourage our elected representatives and government officials to look to that Golden Rule when making policies, for then our collective values of love, compassion, empathy, and generosity toward those who come seeking safety and peace will be reflected.

Written by Reverend Sue Schneider and Rabbi Bonnie Margulis

Reverend Susan Schneider is a pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Madison. Rabbi Bonnie Margulis is president of Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice.

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