Church as Sanctuary

Based on our commitment to answer to a higher calling and maintain the separation of church and state St. Paul’s Free Church considers offering sanctuary to those in need.

In recent years, undocumented immigrants have sought safe haven from churches and many churches have answered the call to provide sanctuary to these troubled people who have fallen through the cracks of our increasingly dominant government forces.

Does “sanctuary” actually exist? According to law, the idea of sanctuary does not exist in this country, yet the authorities do adhere to policies to avoid to create a scene at religious institutions, though this is more of a gentleman’s agreement or avoidance of creating harsh sensationalism which would not fare well in the media for the government agency who storms a church to drag out a defenseless mother and children.

Some churches have gone the extra mile to attempt to secure more separation of church and state in the type of entity they are registered as to operate within the borders of the United States of America. The general line of thought is that if the church is registered as a non-profit religious organization, this includes an agreement with the state to allow law enforcement to access the grounds if they possess a legally signed warrant.

Most Catholic and other churches are registered as a religious corporation sole, which reportedly offers more separation from church and state, allowing them more ability to protect the idea of sanctuary than other types of legally registered religious organizations.

Unfortunately, the corporation sole type of organization has come under scrutiny by the feds, specifically the Internal Revenue Service, as criminals were using this type of corporation to hide income and assets. States are being pressured by the feds (IRS) to limit or eliminate corporation soles in their states. Currently, only 7 states allow the creation of this type of religious corporation.

Over the years, the rights of the church have deteriorated but the church did see some relief with the passing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (H.R.1308) which became public law no. 103-141 on. November 16, 1993 states:

“Prohibits any agency, department, or official of the United States or any State (the government) from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, except that the government may burden a person’s exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person: (1) furthers a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”

Regardless of the type of legal registration of the religious entity, law and immigration and customs enforcement (ICE) honor a respect of churches to allow a level of service and assistance to individuals, though no law exists which prevents law enforcement from breaching a church’s perimeter to arrest any offender. Likewise, if the law approaches the clergy with a properly issued warrant, it is highly likely that the church will reluctantly though respectively allow access to the presenting arm of the law.

How Does Sanctuary Work?

How does sanctuary work in terms of undocumented immigrants?

The church has an open line of communication with professionals serving the immigrant community. An immigrant rights or lawyer contacts the church regarding the individual at risk. If the individual meets the basic criteria of the church (for instance, no criminal record or whatever criteria the church might agree to) a member of the church will volunteer to sponsor the individual, then the church can go about providing services or sanctuary to the people in need.

Some churches have more resources to provide to certain types of sensitive immigrants than others. It needs to be a good match to work successfully for the provision of humanitarian aid to the people who are in need. In most cases, the assistance provided by the church is supportive, temporary, and transitionary in nature.

President and Reverend David M Masters of St, Paul’s Free Church insists, “It is our sacred responsibility to represent God Source Energy which supersedes all manner of life with respect to all other forms of life in this world. We take precautions to honor our higher calling, to answer to God’s law over the law of man.”

It is important for people who seek sanctuary at a church to understand that it does not preclude they’re being apprehended by law enforcement. The church will do everything they can to provide sanctuary understanding that law enforcement may elect to override the respect for religious sanctity under conditions relating to public safety, national security, or terrorism.

Masters says, “Every human deserves respect and dignity. It is not right to separate families, especially those with small children. For some reason, our current administration cannot see how this will affect these young people as they become adults. There is great confusion about which is the greatest crime.

“It is the charge of the church to minister to those in need, to avail ourselves to all people, including undocumented peoples.”

St. Paul’s Free Churches offer open membership or participation in church ministries to all regardless of immigration status and fully support the preservation of the family unit.

~ Rev. David M