Saturday, June 23, 2007


Refuge in Sanctuaries and Special Laws

On Monday night the NewHour with Jim Lehrer reported on Churches Providing Sanctuary for Illegal Immigrants, in particular Adalberto Methodist Church in Chicago, which is providing sanctuary to Elvira Arellano and her son Saul. Arellano has been in the United States illegally for 10 years, and in 2003 she was convicted of using a false Social Security number. Facing deportation to Mexico, she sought sanctuary at Adalberto Church:
Arellano said she and her son, Saul, will stay in hiding for as long as necessary, that God is on their side.
By coincidence this week I read Ulrich Sinn, "Greek Sanctuaries as Places of Refuge," originally published in Nanno Marinatos and Robin Hägg, edd. Greek Sanctuaries: New Approaches (London: Routledge, 1993), and reprinted in Richard Buxton, ed. Oxford Readings in Greek Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 155-179 (tr. Judith Binder).

Sinn's very interesting survey covers a number of topics, including the difference between asylum in general and protection in sanctuaries in particular; the temporary nature of the protection; the obligation of representatives of the holy space to act as intermediaries in resolving whatever problem caused the suppliant to seek refuge in the first place; the rite of supplication; the role of the priests; the consequences of violation of sacred immunity by political authorities; the prominence of protection in sanctuaries in literature, especially tragedy; and how and where suppliants were housed.

Despite the general acceptance of the practice in ancient Greece, there were dissenting voices, one of which is heard in Euripides, Ion 1312-1319 (tr. David Kovacs):
Ah, it is monstrous how bad and unintelligent are the laws the god has made for mortals! He ought not to let the wicked sit at his altar but drive them away. It is not right for an evil hand to touch the gods but only a righteous one. Those who are wronged should be given a seat: just and unjust should not come to the same place and receive the same treatment from the gods.

δεινόν γε, θνητοῖς τοὺς νόμους ὡς οὐ καλῶς
ἔθηκεν ὁ θεὸς οὐδ' ἀπὸ γνώμης σοφῆς:
τοὺς μὲν γὰρ ἀδίκους βωμὸν οὐχ ἵζειν ἐχρῆν,
ἀλλ' ἐξελαύνειν: οὐδὲ γὰρ ψαύειν καλὸν
θεῶν πονηρὰν χεῖρα: τοῖσι δ' ἐνδίκοις --
ἱερὰ καθίζειν, ὅστις ἠδικεῖτ', ἐχρῆν:
καὶ μὴ 'πὶ ταὐτὸ τοῦτ' ἰόντ' ἔχειν ἴσον
τόν τ' ἐσθλὸν ὄντα τόν τε μὴ θεῶν πάρα.

On March 15, 2007 in the United States House of Representatives Luis Gutiérrez introduced a bill "for the relief of Elvira Arellano" (H.R. 1557), which provides in pertinent part that "Elvira Arellano shall be eligible for issuance of an immigrant visa or for adjustment of status to that of an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence."

The United States Constitution apparently does not bar special laws enacted to benefit individuals, but some state constitutions do, for example Minnesota's Constitution, Article XII, Section 1, which states that "The legislature shall pass no local or special law ... granting to any private corporation, association, or individual any special or exclusive privilege, immunity or franchise whatever ...."

I don't know the origin of such prohibitions against special laws, but I recently read something that suggests that the idea goes back a long way, in Pseudo-Heraclitus, Epistles 7 (to Hermodorus, tr. David R. Worley) = Abraham J. Malherbe, The Cynic Epistles: A Study Edition (Missoula: Scholars Press, 1977), pp. 200-201:
I hear that the Ephesians are about to introduce a most illegal law against me; for no law is directed against an individual--only a legal judgment is.

Πυνθάνομαι Ἐφεσίους μέλλειν εἰσηγεῖσθαι νόμον κατ᾽ ἐμου ἀνομώτατον· οὐδεὶς γὰρ νόμος ἐφ᾽ ἑνός, ἀλλὰ κρίσις.
I might translate ἐφ᾽ ἑνός as "at an individual," that is, in reference to an individual, without implying that the law is for or against, rather than "against an individual." Of course κατ᾽ ἐμου is clearly "against me," in this particular instance.

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