Group of Episcopal Church bishops adds voices to Supreme Court case on Trump travel ban

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Apr 26, 2018

[Episcopal News Service] More than 50 bishops of the Episcopal Church are among the hundreds of voices the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing as it considers the constitutionality of President Donald Trump’s travel bans.

The current and retired bishops have asked the court to rule that the ban violates the establishment clause of the Constitution, which prevents the government from establishing an official religion, acting in a way that unduly favors one religion over another or preventing people from exercising their faith.

The main question before the justices is whether any president can ban travel and immigration to the United States based on nationality if that ban contradicts the power over such immigration and travel given to Congress in Article I of the Constitution. The state of Hawaii and others asked the Supreme Court to review Trump’s ban. The court heard arguments in the case April 25 in the last scheduled hearing of its term.

Trump’s executive order suspends entry, subject to exceptions and case-by-case waivers, of certain categories of people from eight countries that do not share adequate information with the United States or that present other risk factors.

Protesters gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., April 25, while the court justices consider a case regarding presidential powers as it weighs the legality of President Donald Trump’s latest travel ban targeting people from Muslim-majority countries. Photo: REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Other challengers have argued that Trump’s campaign speeches and tweets about Muslims were a clear indication that the ban was aimed at a particular religious group and not justified by security concerns. The ban sought to restrict travel from eight nations — Chad, Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Venezuela and North Korea — six of which are predominantly Muslim. Chad was recently removed from the list by the administration.

The 57 bishops told the justices in an amici curiae (friends of the court) brief that among the central tenets of the Episcopal Church is a call “to welcome and assist strangers, especially those who are poor, sick, and most in need of help, to provide a safe haven for those seeking freedom from oppression, and to uphold the dignity of every human being.

“To those ends, the Episcopal Church has long supported a robust refugee resettlement program for those fleeing their countries to escape persecution, oppression, and war,” they wrote, referring to the church’s more than 75-year-old Episcopal Migration Ministries, or EMM.

The bishops said Trump’s travel ban has “significantly undermined the efforts of religious organizations in the United States, including the Episcopal Church, to render aid to those fleeing war and oppression. For many Americans, this type of refugee-assistance work is an expression of their faith and one of the ways in which they keep their covenant with God.”

The travel bans, they wrote, “have caused and will continue to cause significant harm to these religious organizations and to the very vulnerable people that they serve” and “have debilitated and will continue to debilitate the vital mission of religious organizations, and will deprive Americans of the opportunity to practice their faith through service to others in need.”

EMM is one of nine agencies that contract with the U.S. government to resettle refugees. The other resettlement agencies are Church World Service, Ethiopian Community Development Council, HIAS (formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), International Rescue Committee, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services, and World Relief.

Diocese of Olympia Bishop Greg Rickel organized the amici brief effort, following his work on two similar actions when challenges to the travel ban were being heard at the federal court of appeals level. Rickel invited the church’s bishops to sign on to the brief.

The bishops were not the only Episcopalians who have raised their voices in the case. Thomas H. Kean, who was the Republican governor of New Jersey from 1982 to 1990 and chairman of the 9/11 Commission, and John Danforth, an Episcopal priest who served as a Republican senator from Missouri from 1976 to 1995 and an ambassador to the United Nations, are among a group that filed their own amicus brief. Kean and Danforth signed the brief with other former Republican members of Congress or lawyers who have worked in previous Republican administrations.

Kean, Danforth and a third Republican in that group argued April 22 in the New York Times that the Constitution grants Congress the power to make immigration and foreign travel laws, and “Congress cannot give any president the power to dismantle our immigration statutes.”

As the Supreme Court was hearing oral arguments in the case April 25, the Washington Post reported that some religious freedom groups had avoided taking a stand on the constitutionality of the travel bans and “are more concerned about how the court will consider the legal issues than they are with the actual outcome.” The article notes that other groups, such as the group of Episcopal Church bishops, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Muslim Justice League and the Muslim Public Affairs Council, actively oppose Trump’s executive order.

Many observers who listened to the oral arguments seemed to think that, in the words of SCOTUSblog’s Amy Howe, “a majority of the court (and perhaps even a solid one) appeared ready to rule for the government and uphold the order in response to concerns about second-guessing the president on national-security issues.”

— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is interim managing editor of the Episcopal News Service.


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Comments (12)

  1. Judy Wright Mathews says:

    May I know the names of the bishops? I would like to thank them.
    Judy Mathews

  2. The Very Rev'd Canon Michael Perko says:

    If you click on the link to the amicus curiae brief, you’ll find the names of all the bishops who joined the filing.

  3. Emmetri Monica Beane says:

    The names of the bishops are listed on the first two pages of the text of the brief.

  4. Dill Harper says:

    Muslims have already ruined major cities in Europe; we have to be strong and vigilant so as to prevent America from being infiltrated! We have enough internal problems without having to be concerned about more refugees! Some of which are anti-America; they want to change us to their culture, not to adjust to ours! An abstract analogy: the break-up of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina! If we did not agree with Bishop Lawrence’s homophobic philosophy, we were forced out of our churches! What if we do not agree with the Karan teachings?

  5. Tony Oberdorfer says:

    The travel ban against citizens of certain largely Muslim countries is motivated not by hostility against Muslims but by amply justified security concerns which evidently are not shared by a lot of Episcopalians. To call it “unconstitutional religious discrimination” is absurd, all the more so because many Islamic entities have been acting more as dedicated hostile political organizations than religious. Sad to say, as many contributors to ENS have pointed out, there are many Episcopalians who seem determined to turn the Episcopal Church itself into a political organization. It seems to me that to a large extent they have succeeded.

  6. Larry Hill says:

    The group of Bishops leading this effort are way off base. The Muslim population in the group of countries named in the travel ban represent 8% of the world wide Muslim population. How do you conclude that the travel ban is anti-Muslim as opposed to a specific action in the interest of national security. This representation by Episcopal Bishops causes my wife and me to reflect on whether our membership in the Episcopal Church will continue.

  7. STANLEY ZIMMERMAN says:

    I’ll have to play devil’s advocate on this issue. What will families and friends of the 3,000 killed at ground zero on 9/11, think of the Episcopal church? The travel ban is based upon our national security necessities. It happens that the major atrocities in recent times have been perpetrated
    by Muslim immigrants, many not even citizens. From the Boston Marathon to the Orlando gay bar, are just two major instances of Muslim non-conformity to our national values and mores.
    The three preceding comments are correct from this writer’s frame of reference. My advice to the Bishops is, tread lightly on this issue, it can be a denominational bombshell.

  8. Larry Hill says:

    Because they are Bishops, I assume they are reasonably intelligent people capable of understanding the importance of the population statistic set out in my earlier post. Perhaps they were not circumspect enough to really study the details before taking up their position on the travel ban or perhaps they understood the statistics but chose to ignore them because the numbers did not support the position they wanted to take on the issue. If the later is true, then I must interpret their actions as signaling that they are supportive of the Anti-American, Leftist groups that never have the best interest of our country at heart. If they are going to play in politics, I think it would be wise of them to ensure they understand where the Episcopal Church membership at-large stands on the issues before taking public positions. Their public actions may have significant, unintended consequences on church membership.

  9. Larry Waters says:

    I totally concur with most of the comments regarding the President’s authority to keep our citizens and country safe. Tolerance is a wonderful thing, so long as it works both ways. Too often, Christian tolerance is returned with intolerance from those who keeping crying about the need to be understood. These are the folks that the phrase “give them an inch … etc”. applies to. Messrs. [I presume] Hill, Harper, Oberdorfer and Zimmerman all cited valid and true points in their comments. Sadly, the EC leadership seems to be totally leftist in their views. Our Church needs to return to center since I fear that if they don’t, there will be no EC in the U.S.

  10. mike geibel says:

    From the comments at the hearing, the Supreme Court may well side with the administration that the 7 -country travel restriction is a valid exercise of executive power. I can only hope that the majority of the SC Justices reject the phony “litmus test” often used by liberal judges and progressive bishops: “To heck with the law; I hate Trump and if I don’t like or agree with an Executive Order, then it must be illegal or racist.”

    Making America “safer” and protecting our Americans from the risk of terrorism is more important than the rights of want-to-be immigrants or refugees, regardless of the motives of the President. The order plus extreme vetting will “help” deny (but not prevent) entrance into this country by foreign undesirables and subversives of whatever religion or calling, not for reasons of religious persecution, but because predominantly Muslim countries are known to export murderous terrorists whose only “American Dream” is to kill Americans. There are other ways to show compassion for refugees without risking the lives of innocent Americans.

    I suggest the good Bishops read aloud the names of the dead Americans, Jews and Christians murdered by Islamic terrorists here and abroad. This list of the dead is longer and more informative than the self-righteous-politico nonsense in the brief filled with the Supreme Court—written by lawyers paid by pledge money from the membership:

    • In 1967, Palestinian Arab Christian Sirhan Sirhan assassinated (murdered) presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy.
    • On February 26, 1993, the World Trade Center bombing in New York City by Islamic terrorist killed 6 and injured 1,042.
    • August 7, 1998 bombs ignited by Islamic extremists at the United States embassy Tanzania and Nairobi killed 224 and injured more than 4,000.
    • September 11 2001 attacks killed 2,996 people and 6,000 others were wounded.
    • On July 4, 2002 an Islamic terrorist shooting in the Los Angeles International Airport killed 3 and wounded 4.
    • On June 14, 2002, several attacks by Muslim murderers targeted the U.S. consulate in Karachi, Indonesia, killing 12 and wounding 51.
    • On June 18, 2004, American Paul Marshall Johnson was beheaded in Riyadh after being kidnapped at a fake police checkpoint in Saudi Arabia.
    • On June 1, 2009 Addulhakim Muhajid Muhammad shot and killed 1 recruiting officer and wounded another in Little Rock.
    • On November 5, 2009, at the Fort Hood shooting near Killeen, Texas, 13 people were murdered and 33 injured.
    • On October 23, 2014, Zale H. Thomson (also known as Zaim Farouq Abdul-Malik) attacked four New York policemen in the subway with a hatchet, severely injuring two policeman before being shot to death.
    • On December 1, 2014, a burqa-clad woman stabbed a 47-year-old American teacher to death in a mall restroom in the United Arab Emirates and then later planted a bomb outside the home of an Egyptian-American doctor.
    • On April 2, 2015, fully 148 people – most of them Christian students – were killed in the Al-Shabaab’s Garissa University College attack right before the Easter weekend Holidays.
    • On December 2 2015, married couple Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik shot and killed 14 people and injured 22 others in a killing spree at a San Bernardino Christmas Party.
    • On June 12, 2016, at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, 49 people were killed and 53 were injured in a mass shooting. The shooter, Omar Mateen, pledged allegiance to ISIL by specifically calling police and journalists several times during the incident.
    • On November 28, 2016, during the Ohio State University attack, 11 people were hospitalized for injuries after a car ramming attack and mass stabbing. The perpetrator, Abdul Razak Ali Artan, was a Muslim Somali refugee given permanent resident of the United States.
    • On, October 31, 2017, in the Lower Manhattan attack, an Islamic terrorist drove a pickup truck into cyclists and runners and wielded two guns (later found to be a paintball gun and a pellet gun) and an ISIS flag, killed 8 people and injured 13 others.

    Maybe the list of banned countries should be longer.

    Unquestionably, less than 1% of Muslims are fanatical murderers. But these same Bishops are those who demand a ban on the sale, and then later confiscation, of guns from law abiding citizens, yet less than 1% of gun owners use their weapons to commit murder and mayhem. It’s always a double-standard with the leadership of the TEC. If banning guns will make our public places safer, then the same logic supports vetting people from terrorist nations.

    We are witness to the demise the Rule of Law in this country to be replaced with political and ideological correctness by the self-appointed vigilantes of “abstract justice.” The TEC is not a democracy but is run by elitist Bishops who are religious demagogues and who do not answer to the membership, and who live under the protective bubbles of Christian Privilege that filters out common sense and accountability for lives lost. The Supreme Court Justices should give the “friend of the court” brief the weight it deserves–zero.

  11. william dailey says:

    Mike your comments are always thoughtful and right on point. All should understand that the Bishops are simply repeating more dogma from the Churches (Democrat) progressive political left, which sadly seems to rule today . Where were these Bishops when Obama supported such a ban? Is it any suprise that these Bishops express no real concern when muslims rape, torture and enslave Christians?

  12. Bill Louis says:

    Thank you Mike for pointing out the dangers of unfettered, poorly vetted immigration. I’ve read the brief submitted to the Supreme Court by the 57 Bishops and their preposterous allegations claiming “The President’s EO-3 exploits fear, denies the dignity of peoples of different faiths, and deprives Americans of an opportunity to practice their faith…” TEC has turned a blind eye to the safety and sovernty of our country. The never ending bashing of the Trump administration is disgusting. The President is well within his rights to limit immigration into our country.

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