U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday cited the Bible when defending a U.S. policy that separates children from their parents.
The “zero tolerance” policy announced by Sessions earlier means all cases of illegal entry into the U.S. are treated as a criminal matter. U.S. protocol prohibits detaining children with their parents because the children are not charged with a crime and the parents are.
New figures show that 1,995 children were separated from their families over a six-week period.
Many people argued that the practice was inhumane.
In defending the policy, Sessions said that the Bible says you should obey the law.
“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,” he said.
That didn’t resonate with many people — like Late Show host Stephen Colbert — who urged Sessions to continue reading further in the Bible.
“Hey, don’t bring God into this,” he said. “But if he just read a little bit further into Romans 13:10, ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself. Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.'”
The Vatican appeared to weigh in on the debate as well, posting another Bible verse on the Twitter of its migrants and refugees section, attributed to Pope Francis.
“The Bible teaches that God ‘loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt’ (Deuteronomy 10:18-19),” Pope Francis said, according to the tweet.
Others on Twitter also took offence to the use of the Bible to defend the acts — since this a the matter of state and not church.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders doubled down on the comments later Thursday.
Asked where in the Bible it says “that it’s moral to take children away from their mothers?” Sanders replied that “It is biblical to enforce the law.”
WATCH: White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders answered questions about separating families at the border, while also taking a shot at CNN reporter Jim Acosta.
American history professor John Fea told the Washington Post that Romans 13 has been used before to justify other immoral acts.
“In the 1840s and 1850s … Romans 13 is invoked by defenders of the South or defenders of slavery to ward off abolitionists who believed that slavery is wrong,” Fea told the Post.
The International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian aid group, released a statement Friday saying, “A policy of willing cruelty to those people, and using young sons and daughters as pawns, shatters America’s strong foundation of humanitarian sensibility and family values.”
*with files from the Associated Press