Evangelical Leaders Call on Florida Legislators, DeSantis to Reconsider Immigration Bill that Threatens Religious Freedom

 In Press Releases

Tallahassee – Today, evangelical pastors and leaders from across the State of Florida joined a virtual press call to urge Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida legislators to reconsider SB 1718, an immigration bill that has significant ramifications for religious liberties. A recording of the call is available here.

The pastors and leaders, representing evangelical churches and denominations in Tallahassee, Gainesville, Jacksonville, Orlando and across the State of Florida, called upon the Florida legislature to oppose SB 1718 in its current form or, at least, to amend the bill to eliminate threats to the freedom of churches and other religiously-motivated organizations and individuals that serve immigrants. They highlighted concerns with language from the bill that would make incidental transportation of certain individuals who happen to be undocumented immigrants a third-degree felony offense punishable by up to five years in prison.

The following are quotes from pastors and leaders who participated in the press call:

Dale Schaeffer, District Superintendent, Florida District, Church of the Nazarene:

“Many of our churches provide transportation to congregants and community members. As it is currently written, SB 1718 could be interpreted to mean that it would be a felony to pick up teenagers for youth ministries, drive an elderly congregant to church or a doctor’s appointment, or drive a child to school if the driver knew or suspected that the individual had not been allowed to enter the country lawfully. Recently a church asked me if they should disband their transportation ministries entirely because of similar liability-related concerns. Providing transportation to congregants and community members is essential to how Christians in our churches live out their faith. Without additional protections being added to align the bill with the federal anti-smuggling statute, SB 1718 could be interpreted in a way that the religious freedoms of our churches are put at risk.”

Jody Ray, Pastor of Missions, Chets Creek Church, Jacksonville:

“As followers of Christ, we are living out our faith most clearly when we answer the call to care for those in need: widows, orphans, immigrants and the poor. Any law that would hinder our ability to carry out our calling to care for anyone in need would be a violation of our religious freedom. SB1718 has the potential to hinder many of the core ministries of Chets Creek Church and the Christian church as a whole.”

Jose Vega, Minister to Internationals, Chets Creek Church, Jacksonville:

“As a Christian minister, I want to express my concern about this bill. For many years, I have had the liberty to show my unconditional love to people from over the world, serving them in different capacities and transporting them to multiple places. This bill will hinder our work as ministers, limiting our capacity to freely serve our immigrant brothers, sisters and neighbors.”

Steve Gregg, Associate Pastor, Creekside Community Church, Gainesville:

“Our church is currently helping to launch a ministry that gives legal aid to folks trying to navigate an often-complicated path towards immigration legal status. We are committed to following the law and helping any client served to do the same. The way this bill seems to be written could put volunteers at risk of criminal prosecution for simply bringing clients to church or to other functions. I would hope the writers of this bill would address these concerns in a way that allows the church community to serve people who are seeking to do the right thing.”

Gary Shultz Jr., Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church of Tallahassee:

“As Christians we are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves, and that includes immigrants that God brings into our state. We are called to meet not only spiritual needs, but also physical needs such as food, clothing, healthcare, financial assistance, and transportation. If this bill were enacted as currently drafted, it would place Florida’s Christians and churches in an untenable decision, having to decide between obeying biblical commands or facing criminal penalties for showing biblical compassion.”

Myal Greene, President & CEO, World Relief (moderator):

“The proposed immigration bill in the State of Florida, SB 1718, could significantly inhibit the ability of churches, Christian ministries and other institutions and individuals motivated by their religious beliefs to minister freely, which we see as a grave threat to religious freedom. It should never be a crime to drive someone to church. We’re praying that Governor DeSantis and the Florida legislature will abandon this misguided bill – and that our federal lawmakers will finally pursue the reforms supported by 79 percent of Floridian evangelicals, allowing undocumented immigrants to earn permanent legal status and eventual citizenship if they meet appropriate requirements.”

Gabriel Salguero, Pastor, The Gathering Place, Orlando and President, National Latino Evangelical Coalition:

“Elected officials seeking to appeal to evangelical voters are making an error, morally and strategically, by pursuing harsh, anti-immigrant legislation, especially when they go so far as to criminalize basic elements of church ministry in the process. Polls consistently show that evangelicals, including Latino evangelicals, do want secure borders, but they also want all people to be treated humanely and for undocumented immigrants to have the opportunity to make things right and earn U.S. citizenship. I’m praying Governor DeSantis and Florida legislators will abandon this misguided bill and instead insist that our federal lawmakers finally pass long-overdue reforms.”

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