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What Ann Coulter Got Right — and Wrong — When She Said Jesus Wasn't a Refugee

Conservative author Ann Coulter unleashed a storm on Christmas Day by flatly declaring that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were not refugees. She went too far, but the common liberal argument that Jesus was a refugee just like Syrians today is indeed problematic.

Coulter responded to a meme posted by the Twitter account "UndocuMedia" comparing the Holy Family to modern Middle Eastern refugees. "Mary and Joseph weren't refugees, you illiterate. They were going to Bethlehem TO REGISTER WITH THE GOVERNMENT," Coulter declared.

According to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem at the request of the Emperor Augustus, who ordered a census throughout the Roman Empire. After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, King Herod of Israel issued a decree that all boys around Jesus' age must be killed — to prevent the prophesied king of Israel from reaching adulthood.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph fled to Egypt during this time, to escape Herod's decree.

Conservative professor and author C.C. Pecknold laid out the situation well. "If you are returning to the town of your birth for a government mandated census, you are not a refugee," Pecknold tweeted. "If you are fleeing a murderous king who wants to kill your child, you’re seeking sanctuary, and are owed it as a matter of justice. You’re welcome."

Liberal Jesuit Priest James Martin disagreed. "Actually, no. When the Holy Family flees to Egypt, they meet the current definition of refugees: those fleeing 'conflict or persecution.' And the word the angel uses in Joseph's dream in Matthew (2:13) is 'φεῦγε' (pheuge), from which comes the word 'refugee,' the one who flees," Martin tweeted.

"But even if the Holy Family fleeing into Egypt did not meet the current definition of refugees (and they do)," the Jesuit added, "modern-day refugee families still deserve our care and protection, because each refugee possesses infinite dignity and worth. They are our sisters and brothers."