Lent IV, the Prodigal Son, Immigrants and Drug Offenders
Today's Gospel is about the parable of the prodigal son. It operates on two levels. Traditionally the Church has used it to call people to confession, however it has a deeper meaing on the dangers of self-righteousness. I call for taking it a step further as a rationale for greater mercy in society.
Many people are against measures allowing legalization for undocumented immigrants. They feel that lawbreakers should not be rewarded with a path to citizenship. In doing so, they are like the elder brother in the parable, who rebukes his father for granting mercy to his youner brother, who admittedly acted badly. If one wishes to be true to this Gospel, as well as the requirement that we welcome the stranger (see Matthew 25), one cannot hold that view.
The same logic applies to the welcoming of parolees and released non-violent drug offenders. Indeed, it applies to even continuing to hold such people in confinement at all for what is, essentially, unhealthy behavior. Drug offenders are better held in a treatment facility so that they can be made well, even if they are so held against their own wishes. Indeed, with mandatory treatment, the rationale for punitive measures vanishes into a desire to punish people for behavior that others view as sinful. Those who would punish people who are essentially sick and continue their punishment by denying them educational opportunities in prison or after prison, the opportunity to live in public housing or the opportunity for a job after release are essentially playing the role of the judgmental older son. This goes against today's Gospel.
What also goes against the Gospel are those laws that require an application for pardon to have voting rights restored, rather than restoring these rights after parole is completed. This is the case in Virginia and in many southern states. Such states don't just stop at drug infrations. There are actually trivial offenses on the books that are prosecuted as felonies (who can forget the prohibition on walking and eating ice cream in Florida), whose main purpose is to disenfranchise non-white voters. These laws must be expunged from the criminal code, with the automatic restoration of full voting rights. Indeed, removing these provisions from law should be a requirmeent for release from federal monitoring under the Voting Rights Act. In this case, the southern states are like the prodigal son, rather than the older son, since they have clearly sinned. I am all for removing monitoring, provided that repentence comes first, the laws are changed and full voting rights for ex-felons are gauranteed. Before then, not so much.