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Joint Baptist Letter on Section 10 of SB3

Mar 13, 2015

The following is a joint letter addressed to Senator Birdwell from a coalition of Baptists regarding Section 10 of Texas Senate Bill 3. You can download a PDF copy of the letter here.


March 13, 2015

The Honorable Brian Birdwell P. O. Box 12068 
Capitol Station 
Austin, Texas 78711 

Dear Senator Birdwell, 

We are writing to express our concern with Section 10 of Senate Bill 3, which would amend the definition of smuggling of persons in the Texas Penal Code. The bill provides that a person could be charged with smuggling of persons if the person “recklessly conceals, harbors, or shields from detection or encourages or induces a person to enter or remain in this country who is present in this country in violation of federal law.” We believe the bill as currently written could inadvertently criminalize ministry to undocumented church members and communities.   

The inclusion of the word “recklessly” potentially places pastors, church staff, and lay people in danger of being criminally liable for smuggling of persons for aiding undocumented persons in the regular course of ministry. For example, a pastor could be charged if he transported undocumented church members to Bible study.  

We represent a broad coalition of Baptists from across a political and theological spectrum. We disagree on many things, but we agree pastors should be able to minister to undocumented persons in our churches and community without fear of criminal prosecution. We believe that there is an undeniable biblical responsibility to love and show compassion for the stranger among us (Deuteronomy 10:18-19). 

We respect the rule of law, but we are extremely concerned the implications of Senate Bill 3 for our pastors and churches that work regularly with the undocumented community. Many of our churches provide access to church services and other assistance without regard to a person's legal status in this country.   

We ask you to amend the language in Section 10 of Senate Bill 3 in order to make it clear that it does not apply to those who engage in ministry to undocumented individuals. Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to working with you to resolve this issue.  

Sincerely, 

Russell Moore, President 
Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention 

Jim Richards, Executive Director Southern Baptists of Texas Convention 

David Hardage, Executive Director Baptist General Convention of Texas 

J. Kie Bowman, Senior Pastor Hyde Park Baptist Church 

Gus Reyes, Director 
Christian Life Commission 
Baptist General Convention of Texas