The Episcopal Bishops of Long Island and Western Massachusetts, as well as Episcopal City Mission in Massachusetts, Church of Our Saviour/La Iglesia de Nuestro Salvador in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Trinity Church Wall Street have joined an amicus (friend of the court) brief supporting legal challenges to President Trump’s emergency funding of border wall construction. The Episcopal Church is also represented by the New York State Council of Churches in the brief.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit in February on behalf of the Sierra Club and Southern Border Communities Coalition that challenges the president’s emergency powers declaration to secure funding for a border wall after Congress did not approve his request for $5.7 billion for such construction.
In May, a federal district court judge issued a preliminary injunction that barred the administration from transferring pension and other funds from military accounts for this purpose on the basis that Congress did not authorize the funds be used in this way by the administration.
In 5 to 4 ruling in July, the U.S. Supreme Court said construction of the wall could begin with $2.5 billion in Pentagon funding while the litigation continues.
In the wake of that ruling, the ACLU filed a motion with the Ninth Circuit to expedite hearings in the lawsuit that names Trump as a defendant.
Seventy-five religious organizations from across the spectrum of organized religion in America, led by the Muslim Bar Association of New York, filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs last week. Their argument is summarized:
The Appropriations Clause of the United States Constitution provides that: “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” President Trump ignored that mandate by shrugging off Congress’s rejection of $5.7 billion in appropriations for a proposed border wall, and purporting to divert funds that had been appropriated for other purposes. This challenge ensued.
Amici have a direct stake in preventing the Executive from ignoring the Appropriations Clause. President Trump’s effort to build a wall is targeted at a specific disfavored group, namely immigrants entering the United States through the southern border. But the risks of an unchecked executive with access to unlimited funds to implement its agenda are shared by all potentially-disfavored groups. Amici, religious groups whose members have, throughout history, faced discrimination by powerful executive branches of government both here and abroad, are acutely conscious of the need for a balance of powers. Indeed, several amici represent groups that have already been specifically targeted by President Trump, such as Muslims, immigrants, and refugees, and all amici are justly concerned that the President will, if permitted, use his newfound power to re-direct appropriations to impinge on the rights of religious minorities.
Signatories to the brief appended their own explanations for their support.
Bishop Doug Fisher, of Western Massachusetts, wrote:
As bishop I am the lawful and spiritual leader and the bridge between our diocese and The Episcopal Church. The President’s use of government funds for building the southern border wall is a clear violation of the Congress’ power of the purse. The situation at our southern border may quite rightly be seen as a crisis as the President’s policy shifts have stranded asylum seekers in Mexico for an indeterminate time. The impact of his change to national policy has endangered the lives of people who seek safety here. What has been done to the children under orders from the President, is immoral and an affront to human dignity. I join this amicus brief on behalf of the Episcopalians in Western Massachusetts who have promised to uphold the dignity of every human being.
The statement from the Diocese of Long Island, whose bishop is the Rt Revd Lawrence Provenzano, reads:
The Bishop of the Diocese fully supports this effort for a permanent injunction to stop the administration (federal government) from mis-directing and illegally using Defense Department and Treasury Funds to construct an immoral, impractical and useless border wall. The administration’s fixation with constructing this wall is representative of the administration’s sinful and unlawful scapegoating of asylum seekers to promote an unAmerican, protectionist, nationalist agenda. It must not be allowed to happen.
The Episcopal City Mission added:
At Episcopal City Mission (“ECM”) we believe that all life was created in the image of God and reveals God’s loving presence. We follow Jesus, one who embodied love and justice by honoring the people most overlooked by society and challenging systems of separation that denied sacredness. We follow in the way of Jesus when we serve as God’s heart, hands and feet in the world today. President Trump’s decision to build a wall with government funding targets those people with whom we are most called to demonstrate solidarity. In addition, this action stands in direct opposition to ECM’s commitment to honor life, follow Jesus, and build communities that care for the oppressed and seek the common good.
Church of Our Saviour/La Iglesia de Nuestro Salvador joined the brief because:
As Christians we are accountable to a tradition of the Abrahamic faiths. Abraham and Sarah were called to leave their homeland and travel across many borders, living as immigrants throughout their long lives. The infant Christ was carried by his family in a time of political crisis to another country, fleeing violence: they had no time nor would they have been permitted to get any papers in order. We are strictly commanded by our Savior Jesus Christ as well as by the Torah and the Prophets, that we must welcome the refugees and immigrants, that ¨whatever you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.¨ To build a wall or to take any other measures to keep desperate people away from safety and a secure future is to act against our religion and contrary to the command of our God. This is reflected in Resolutions from many General Conventions of The Episcopal Church, of which we are a part.
And Trinity Church Wall Street described its list of activities and engagements with migrant and refugee relief, concluding:
Trinity Church Wall Street is a member of The Episcopal Church and supports the advocacy initiatives of the national Church, including those directed toward issues of migration, refugees and immigration. Specifically, Trinity Church Wall Street is working to promote and support the priority issue areas identified by The Episcopal Church: maintaining family unity; building a pathway to citizenship; protecting minors qualifying under the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (“DREAMers”); establishing long-term solutions for Temporary Protected Status (“TPS”) holders; and enacting reasonable and compassionate enforcement and border security measures. …
In addition, Trinity Church Wall Street has undertaken its own initiatives in this area by offering direct assistance to refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers, and through the promotion of policies and programs aimed at assisting members of those communities. …
The Trump Administration’s efforts to build a border wall and to divert funds properly allocated for other government functions for the construction of the wall is antithetical to the religious and moral mission of Trinity Church Wall Street. Trinity Church Wall Street is committed to supporting refugee and immigrant populations regardless of legal status, the President’s efforts to curtail migration into the United States through construction of a wall at the southern border runs counter to our religious and humanitarian mission.
At the conclusion of their brief, the Amici reiterate their concerns that if the President is permitted to fund a border wall by reappropriating other funds, he will not stop there.
If President Trump is allowed to indulge this whim, he will turn to others. And the President has, repeatedly, singled out religious minorities for contempt. Amici therefore have a reasonable expectation that, if permitted to divert funds on this pretext, President Trump will later use that power to surveil, harass, and sanction disfavored religious minorities.