Anti-Sharia Law

  • December 30, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The year included some high-profile discussion, thanks to the Wall Street protests, of the nation's growing gap between the super wealthy and everyone else, and rightly so with study after study showing a clear trend of wealth redistribution to the top 1 percent of earners. (Though apparently large numbers of Americans are unaware or unconcerned about the hard truth.)

    But the year also included a heated debate much more recognizable to Americans – over ongoing religious-fueled controversies. Yet one probably wonders does it matter. Does religious strife, serious or superfluous, ever subside? More importantly, however, are the questions and concerns that have yet to be clearly resolved over the parameters of the Constitution's religious liberty clauses. 

    For example, as highlighted by Laurie Goodstein of The New York Times, some Catholic bishops are dumping certain tax-payer supported charities instead of complying with the federal government’s requirement that such programs be operated in a manner that does not discriminate against groups of people, such as lesbians and gay men. The bishops argue that their religious groups’ First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion is being subverted by the government’s demand that they provide adoption services to same-sex couples.

    Civil liberties groups, however, believe that the free exercise of religion does not mean that religious groups have an absolute right to trump the federal government’s power to enforce civil rights laws.

    The First Amendment Center’s Director of the Religious Freedom Education Project Charles Haynes highlights another strand of controversy, proclaiming anti-Muslim bigotry is the “religion story of the year.

    Haynes cites a recent decision by Lowe’s, a Home Depot competitor, to yank advertising from a “reality” television show, “All-American Muslim.” Lowe's pulled its ads at the behest of a “conservative Christian group called the Florida Family Association.” But Haynes notes this is just one controversy in a number of actions that have unfolded nationwide that expose a “growing anti-Muslim movement in the United States.” Haynes has noted anti-Mosque protests, and the efforts of state lawmakers to pass anti-Shariah legislation.

    Haynes notes, however, that supporters of religious freedom for all believers are pushing back in the face of an obstinate movement. (He reports that an array of religious groups is banding together to protest the decision by Lowe’s.)

  • May 25, 2011

    State lawmakers pushing measures to prohibit courts from citing religious or international laws in controversies before them are fueling anti-Muslim fervor and revealing great disdain for the U.S. Constitution, write Daniel Mach and Jamil Dakwar in an article for Religion News Service (RNS).

    Mach, director of the ACLU’s program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, and Dakwar, director of the ACLU’s Human Rights Program, note that Oklahoma is not the only state that is trying to constrain courts’ ability to do their jobs. It may be one of the worst, however. The state’s constitutional amendment barring judges from citing Islamic, or Shariah, law and international law in their opinions has been temporarily block by a federal court, the two note.

    Mach and Dakwar write:

    The Oklahoma law, and others like it, contains prohibitions on “international law” and foreign law,” nonsensically conflating Shariah with foreign law. Other states, preferring not to wear their bigotry on their sleeves, don’t mention Shariah law per se, instead referring only to bans on “international law.” There intent, however, is unmistakable.

    In addition to the ugly implication that anything Islamic is inherently un-American, these efforts are rooted in baseless idea that U.S. Muslims wish to impose Islamic law on American courts. Proponents of these misguided measures, which have been introduced in a 25 states so far, clearly seek to ride the recent wave of anti-Muslim bias in this country.

    The two point out, however, that the U.S. Supreme Court has long held that “the domestic law of the United States recognizes law of nations.” They continue, “Legislation that forbids courts from considering international or foreign law raise serious questions about the separation of powers and the independence of courts and judges.”

    They conclude in their article, “If supporters of these measures genuinely wish to protect the Constitution, they would do well to trust the framers’ respect for international law and religious freedom – and not trade away our most precious values for political advantage.”

    Also see a recent report from the ACLU called, "Noting to Fear: Debunking the Mythical 'Sharia Threat' to Our Judicial System."

    Earlier this year, Northeastern University School of Law Professor Martha F. Davis and Loyola University New Orleans College of Law Assistant Professor Johanna Kalb examined the impact of such state efforts in an ACS Issue Brief. In a guest post for ACSblog, Davis observed, “Since citations of Shariah law and international law are hardy rampant in state courts – indeed, no Oklahoma court has ever relied on Shariah law – legislators pursuing these measures are either deliberately wasting valuable legislative time or they have some other purpose.”

    The ACS Issue Brief, “Oklahoma State Question 755 and an Analysis of Anti-International Law Initiatives,” is available here.

  • April 21, 2011
    Guest Post

    By Ryan Kiesel. Mr. Kiesel heads the ACS Oklahoma Lawyer Chapter and served in the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 2004 – 2010. He is currently in private practice in Oklahoma City and teaches a course in Politics and the Law as an adjunct professor at the University of Oklahoma College of Law.

    In 2007, when members of the Oklahoma Legislature received copies of the Quran from the Governor’s Ethnic Advisory Council (disbanded by newly elected Gov. Mary Fallin), Rex Duncan, then a member of the House, issued a statement explaining that he would not accept the book and said of the Muslim faith, “Most Oklahomans do not endorse the idea of killing innocent women and children in the name of ideology.

    Nearly every Muslim in Oklahoma, or on the planet for that matter, would agree.

    Of course, what then Representative, and now District Attorney Rex Duncan meant was that the Muslim faith and its adherents are inherently at war with everyone who does not believe as they do. So to “save our state,” Mr. Duncan launched an attack on the civil liberties of individuals who do not believe as he does. (Mr. Duncan and other lawmakers also received Bibles, but did not reject or disparage those religious texts.)

    Mr. Duncan authored SQ 755, a ballot measure that appeared on the November 2010 ballot in Oklahoma. Duncan labeled SQ 755 a “pre-emptive strike” against efforts by Muslims and their liberal allies in the judiciary.

    The language of the ballot measure targeted the non-threat of foreign or religious law from superseding state or federal law and sought to protect Oklahomans from the influences of foreign cultures.  It allegedly accomplished this by mandating that state courts, and especially liberal, activist judges keen on violating the establishment clause and imposing religious precepts on unsuspecting Oklahomans, keep their decisions free from the taint of foreign laws or customs.  It mentioned Sharia law specifically.

    During the 2010 election, supporters of SQ 755 spread wildly inaccurate and prejudicial information to the electorate, telling voters that unless we amend Oklahoma’s Constitution, state courts would be forced to turn a cold shoulder to such crimes as domestic abuse, if those crimes were committed in the name of religion. Most candidates for office, Democrats and Republicans alike, endorsed SQ 755. Only a handful of candidates were willing to risk their political careers in defending their neighbors’ civil rights. On Election Day, SQ 755 was approved by an overwhelming majority of voters. (After the election, I appeared on MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” to discuss SQ 755 and the politics of fear. See video of the segment here.)

    Within days of the election, Muneer Awad, the newly minted Executive Director of CAIR-OK, filed a request for an injunction to prevent the Election Board from certifying the results of the election. You can read his brief here.