Editorial: It's wrong to enforce some laws, not others

Published on Tuesday, 10 January 2017 14:38 - Written by

Here’s the irony of a sanctuary city - something that Texas lawmakers are rightly attempting to preclude in Texas. Picking and choosing which laws to obey leads to some terrible, ridiculous and unjust outcomes.

Let’s look at Tampa, Florida. Tampa isn’t formally designated as a sanctuary city (which is defined as a city that refuses to cooperate with immigration authorities to deport illegal immigrants). But some of its informal policies fit this definition, and activists are pushing its mayor to declare it as such.

In response to a petition asking that Tampa be declared a sanctuary city, one city official pledged, “We will not discriminate based on who you love, the God you worship or the color of your skin.”

The city’s reason? Compassion.

At least, for certain people. Not far from City Hall, the homeless gather at a city park, where a group comes and provides warm food. The city is having none of that. Seven people were arrested on Saturday - for feeding the homeless.

“Police spokesman Steve Hegarty said the issue was not that the group was passing out food but that it did not acquire a permit to set up shop in a city park, which is required by city ordinance,” the Tampa Bay Times reports. “Further, he said, officers warned volunteers from the group days before while they were passing out coffee and bagels in the same spot that they would be arrested if they returned again without a permit.”

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As they were being handcuffed, the volunteers urged to homeless to “please help yourselves” to the remaining food.

Here’s the connection. City officials have decided to enforce some laws, and to not enforce others. That’s the wrong approach.

An argument can be made that immigration laws are unjust and hurtful to some people. Certainly children whose parents brought them to the U.S. illegally at a young age now find themselves in a no-win situation, and they are not at fault.

At the same time, an argument can be made that city restrictions on feeding the homeless and the hungry are unjust and hurtful - especially to the people who need help the most.

And we can argue a moral duty to break unjust laws. As we approach Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Monday), we could cite his words: “There are just laws and there are unjust laws… I would agree with St. Augustine that an unjust law is no law at all.”

He’s right. But King added that breaking an unjust law means accepting the consequences.

“I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the very highest respect for law,” King said.

There’s another approach: Unjust laws can and should be changed. Supporters of sanctuary cities and opponents alike call for comprehensive immigration reform. That’s a good goal.

Until that happens, sanctuary cities should be ready to accept the consequences of their disobedience.