Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Sanctuary, Refugee, News


It may seem surprising that faith groups would offer sanctuary to refused refugees, or material support to undocumented migrants. These acts of resistance and compassion require normally law-abiding moral people to make a conscious choice to defy government and perhaps, if necessary, even break the law. The success of sanctuary movements (defined broadly here) relies on broad public support both to attract willing collaborators, and to forestall government intervention. Previous studies have examined the discourse around sanctuary practice, and the ensuing public debates. This chapter adds to this body of work by offering an empirical study of how individuals and groups publically justified acts of sanctuary; we offer a comparative analysis of these claims in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom; and finally we attempt to respond, in a limited way, to the challenges raised by these voices. The jurisdictions considered share similar legal, faith and cultural histories, but we seek to understand how their distinct political and geographic contexts shaped their movements. We find that sanctuary practice, and even its very definition; vary widely across these jurisdictions, from shelter in a church, our traditional conception, to rescue in the wilderness. We also discover that sanctuary supporters we heard share a common motivation, and perhaps for those from a Christian worldview, a theological commitment broad enough to encircle all these expressions.