Attorney General Jeff Sessions was interrupted by religious protesters during a speech on religious liberty on Monday at the Boston Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society.
"I was hungry and you did not feed me. I was a stranger and you did not welcome me. I was naked and you did not clothe me," one clergyman said during Sessions' speech. He continued by saying "I was a stranger and you did not welcome me... I was in prison and you did not visit me," although part of his speech was muffled by the video. When it picked up, he explained why he had made his Biblical references.
"Brother Jeff, as a fellow United Methodist, I call upon you to repent, to care for those in need," the clergyman proclaimed. "To remember that when you do not care for others, you are wounding the body of Christ."
Sessions shot back, "Well thank you for those remarks and attacks, but I will just tell you we do our best everyday to fulfill my responsibility to enforce the laws of the United States."
The video also showed a separate preacher lecturing Sessions, although much of his speech was also inaudible in the video. As he was escorted out to shouts of "Boo!" and "Go home!" the preacher pointed out that he was merely exercising his right to religious speech and that it was hypocritical for people attending an event on religious liberty to deny him his constitutional right to speak truth to power.
"Well we will say this: Thank you all for your comments and we're glad to hear them, but that's pretty close what we refer to as the 'heckler's veto,' the ability of one individual to prevent others in a proper forum to be able to express a hopefully coherent thought about a serious subject," Sessions said after the preacher had been removed from the room. "I don't think there's anything in the scripture, I don't believe there's anything in my theology that says a secular nation-state cannot have lawful laws to control immigration in this country. That's what we're talking about. Not immoral, not indecent and not unkind to state what your laws are and then set about to enforce them, in my view. And I feel like that's my responsibility and that's what I intend to do."
This isn't the first time that Sessions has erroneously quoted from the Bible in order to justify policies that others perceive as intolerant. During the controversy in June over Trump's family separation policy, Sessions argued that "illegal entry into the United States is a crime — as it should be. Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. I would cite you to the apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order." Religious scholars have argued that that passage of the Bible has a long history of being used to justify oppressive causes like slavery and apartheid and, more importantly, was taken out of its larger context.