Stop the Ban On Freedom of Religion

On September 11, 2001, former President George W. Bush addressed the nation, saying “our very freedom came under attack.” Ten years later, the terrorists are not the only ones trying to attack our freedoms. Thanks to the First Amendment, the freedom of religion is a prized American value. Yet Republican Michigan State Rep. Dave Agema must have forgotten this when he sponsored a bill that bans state courts from using “foreign laws.” Though it is not specifically mentioned in the bill, Muslims believe the legislation refers to sharia (Islamic law).

Agema is not alone in his belief that sharia threatens the constitution. Politicians in over 20 other states want to implement laws banning the application of foreign law or religious and cultural law. Some state legislators even tried to specifically note a ban on sharia. It is vital that states are stopped from implementing laws that ban religious values and target one minority while setting precedents that can affect other groups.

The political right often believes that sharia law is a violent, anti-female code and worries about its use in domestic cases. Critics of Islam often pick and choose lines of the Koran to publicize and disagree with while ignoring similar passages in the Bible. Deuteronomy 22:23-24 allows for the stoning of adulterers. Deuteronomy 22:20-21 says a woman who is not a virgin upon marriage can be stoned because she is “the whore in her father’s house.” Sounds like an honor killing to me.

In terms of more positive similarities, all of the commands in the Ten Commandments are also found in the Koran. If sharia is banned, does this mean that the Ten Commandments are banned from influencing legislation? The 46% of Americans who want to see the Bible as a source of legislation might not be too happy to hear this.

Anti-sharia proponents also ignore how religious courts already exist for matters of private arbitration. In the UK, Muslim courts act as private arbitration tribunals for business and familial disputes. Both parties in a case must agree to have the dispute solved in the religious court before the case can proceed. In the U.S., Jewish rabbinical courts known as Beth Din function in the same manner. In these courts, civil law still has priority over religious law. A ban of sharia courts will set a precedent for a ban of Beth Din courts as well. 

Anti-sharia laws have the potential to produce other devastating precedents. Sharia law requires praying five times a day, and banning this practice severely infringes on Muslims’ right to freely exercise their religion. Once this practice is banned, the government can stop Jews from leaving work early on the Sabbath. Following this logic, the government would have to revoke the status of Christmas as a federal holiday.

A sharia ban is also problematic on a national security level, as this could fuel the growth of homegrown terrorists. Traditional Islam does not allow jihad to be declared in places where Muslims can freely practice their religion, but extremists may justify declaring jihad if they think the U.S. is restraining their freedom of worship. Domestic anti-sharia laws can also affect foreign policy, since the lack of understanding and respect for Islam is a major source of anti-American sentiment among Muslims.

Anti-sharia proponents are capitalizing on, and adding to, the growing anti-Islamic sentiment in America. It seems to have become good electoral politics for a Republican to present him or herself as anti-Islam. Most state anti-sharia bills are being proposed in areas with small to non-existent Muslim populations, such as Oklahoma; since fundamentalist Muslims are the most publicized Muslims, it is easy for people in these states who are unaware of peaceful Muslims to fall prey to fear-mongering politicians. These fears have come to dominate people’s minds, but fear should not be used to justify denying an essential right to the American Muslim community. As Bush reminds us, “All Americans must recognize that the face of terror is not the true faith — face of Islam ... It’s a faith based upon love, not hate.”

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