Several spiritual leaders from throughout Southeastern Massachusetts have penned an op-ed to the local newspapers chastising Bristol County Sheriff Tom Hodgson for doing the job he has long been elected to do.

The church leaders are upset that Hodgson notified the Trump Administration of pamphlets he discovered at the rear of St. Julie Billiart Parish Chruch in Dartmouth that offered legal advice to those who might be in the country illegally. Hodgson informed the White House in a text that he was “trying to determine if this is an isolated situation or a common occurrence in other parish churches.” The pamphlet, “Know Your Rights,” provides information for illegals who might be confronted by immigration officials.

The authors of the letter say Hodgson's actions are troubling because those actions suggest "church officials or religious leaders of any faith are doing something illegal that warrants suspicion and possible surveillance when ministering to their congregation." The letter goes on to say, "As faith leaders, we have seen all too often, throughout history, the result of suspicion and surveillance on people of faith. We cannot accept government intervention in lawful faith-related activities."

The church has a long history of providing assistance and sanctuary to those in this country illegally. St. James Church in New Bedford provided sanctuary to a number of illegals following the Michael Bianco raid. We have also witnessed as terrorist plots and other crimes were hatched in mosques and other places where worshipers gather.

To the religious leaders who are troubled over Hodgson's actions, I fully appreciate that you take your role as protectors of the needy quite seriously and are concerned that you feel the sheriff's inquiry makes you feel as though you are suspected of being "engaged in seditious behavior." But Sheriff Hodgson has a job to do too. Hodgson is responsible for protecting all people from those who would harm our country. Many of those folks that Hodgson is looking out for are members of your various congregations and they have rights, too.

Churches in America are exempt from government control but they are not exempt from the laws of the land. Too many victims suffered needlessly at the hands of Catholic priests as church leaders coddled and protected the offenders while those charged with defending the victims were too timid to act.

These are complicated times we live in. Perhaps more understanding and cooperation could make it all a bit easier to navigate.

Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at barry@wbsm.com and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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