The Necessity of Anti-Sharia Laws
Louisiana, Arizona ,and Tennessee have already passed legislation restricting the use of foreign law in state courtrooms, and twenty-one other states are considering similar laws. These statutes are designed to halt the use of Islamic law, sharia, by American judges -- a measure that many see as necessary, since sharia has already been involved in cases in twenty-three states. Many see this as an alarming encroachment upon First Amendment protection of religion; however, anti-sharia laws do not actually infringe upon religious freedom at all, and they become more urgently needed by the day.
In the March issue of First Things, law professor Robert K. Vischer equates anti-sharia laws with recent intrusions upon the religious freedom of Christians, such as laws that now require "pro-life pharmacists to dispense the morning-after pill" and "Christian adoption agencies to place children with same-sex couples, and religious entities to pay for their employees' contraceptives." He asserts that "[t]he recent spate of 'anti-Sharia' initiatives is just the most politically popular example of such threats" to religious freedom.
This is a widespread misapprehension. The Associated Press recently noted that critics of anti-sharia laws view the drive to pass them as an "unwarranted campaign driven by fear of Muslims." In criticizing an anti-sharia amendment to the Oklahoma state constitution that gained seventy percent of the vote in a state referendum but was later struck down, Daniel Mach, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, said:
This amendment did nothing more than target one faith for official condemnation. Even the state admits that there has never been any problem with Oklahoma courts wrongly applying religious law. The so-called 'Save Our State Amendment' was a solution in search of a problem, and a blatantly discriminatory solution at that."
Ryan Kiesel of the ACLU's Oklahoma branch declared: "No one in Oklahoma deserves to be treated like a second-class citizen. This proposed amendment was an affront to the Constitution and everything it stands for." The Muslim writer Reza Aslan hysterically and inaccurately charged that "two-thirds of Americans don't think Muslims should have the same rights or civil liberties as non-Muslims.
In reality, the properly formulated anti-sharia laws neither infringe upon Muslims' civil liberties or religious freedom nor address a nonexistent problem. Vischer correctly states some of reasons why Americans are concerned about sharia when he says that "proponents of this legislation tend to focus on manifestations of Sharia overseas: the stoning of adulterers, cutting off of the hands of thieves, and the denial of basic freedoms for women in some Islamic countries," and that "there are many schools of interpretation among Islamic legal scholars, and some interpretations stand in tension with the rights that we have come to take for granted in liberal democracies, including the rights of women, homosexual persons, religious minorities, and religious converts."
Vischer clearly means to imply that Muslims in America have no intention, now or ever, of bringing "the stoning of adulterers, cutting off of the hands of thieves, and the denial of basic freedoms for women" to America, and that there are schools of interpretation among Islamic legal scholars that do not "stand in tension with the rights that we have come to take for granted in liberal democracies." In reality, however, there is no school of Islamic jurisprudence among either Sunnis or Shi'tes that does not mandate stoning for adultery, amputation of the hand for theft, and the subjugation of women. Stoning adulterers is in accord with the words and example of Muhammad, whom the Quran holds up as the supreme example of conduct for believers (33:21); amputation of the hand for theft is mandated in the Quran itself (5:38); and the oppression of women in numerous ways is amply attested by the words of both the Quran and the prophet of Islam.
And while there are individual Islamic legal scholars who have crafted interpretations of the Quran and Sunnah that are more compatible with Western pluralism and liberal democracy than is sharia in its classic formulations, these have never gained any significant traction among Muslims. Wherever Sharia has been the law of the land, throughout Islamic history and in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other areas of the Islamic world today, it has had largely the same character -- one that has never resembled liberal democracy by any stretch of the imagination. Sharia polities throughout history and today have denied the freedom of speech and the freedom of conscience, and they have mandated discrimination against women and non-Muslims.
Vischer says that "fears about the most extreme applications of Sharia need not prompt a categorical ban on Sharia," but the world has never seen a form of sharia that has not been "extreme." Many non-Muslims mistakenly believe that relatively free and Westernized majority-Muslim states -- principally Turkey, as well as, up until recently, Tunisia and Egypt -- demonstrate the compatibility of sharia with understandings of human rights that are otherwise universally accepted. This is, however, a fundamental misapprehension: Turkey and other relatively Westernized Muslim countries have been governed by sharia not at all, but instead by legal codes imported from the West. In fact, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk established the modern-day Turkish republic as a defiant rejection of sharia and an explicit determination to establish a Western-style state, free from the strictures of Islamic law. Such states don't have a different, more expansive version of sharia; they don't have sharia at all (and today their freedoms are rapidly eroding, as the "Arab Spring" is bringing sharia back in force).
Sharia is also political and supremacist, mandating a society in which non-Muslims do not enjoy equality of rights with Muslims. And that is the focus of anti-sharia laws: to prevent this authoritarian and oppressive political and social system from eroding the freedoms we enjoy as Americans. It is plainly disingenuous to claim that anti-sharia laws would infringe upon Muslims' First Amendment rights to practice their religion. As Thomas Jefferson said, it doesn't matter whether my neighbor believes in one god or seventeen; it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. It is only when my neighbor believes that his god commands him to pick my pocket or break my leg that his beliefs become a matter of concern for those who do not share them. No one wants to restrict individual Muslim religious practice, or even cares about it. The purpose of anti-sharia laws is not to stop Muslims from getting married in Islamic religious ceremonies and the like, but to stop the political and supremacist aspects of Islam that infringe upon the rights and freedoms of non-Muslims.
The Islamic state, as delineated by sharia, encroaches on the basic rights of non-Muslims. It would be a sad irony for non-Muslims to oppose anti-sharia and thereby abet their own subjugation.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and author of the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad.