Published on: Monday, October 22, 2012
Editors's Note: The Politics of Purple
In the next month, there will be a lot of debate about red states and blue states, and a lot of the attention will be on states that are purple, places where they say the numbers are too close to call. However, unlike the pundits who are waiting for the states to turn either red or blue, at the University of St. Thomas School of Law we embrace the nuance and complexity of purple. The following story is the third in a four-part Politics of Purple series.
Two Twin Cities-based legal scholars who have written and spoken about the constitutional and public policy perils of anti-Sharia law initiatives will discuss the topic Tuesday, Oct. 23 at the Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law and Public Policy’s latest “Hot Topics: Cool Talk” forum.
The event, “The Dangers of Anti-Sharia Laws: Muslim and Catholic Perspectives,” will feature addresses from Abdulwahid Qalinle, a native of Somalia and adjunct associate professor of law at the University of Minnesota Law School and Robert Vischer, professor and associate dean for academic affairs at St. Thomas’ School of Law.
The program will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the O’Shaughnessy Educational Center auditorium on the St. Paul campus of the University of St. Thomas.
Vischer, who wrote an article on the dangers of anti-Sharia laws recently published in the religious liberties journal “First Things,” said the importance of the topic underscores a need for lawmakers and the general public to become better informed on the impacts of laws that threaten First Amendment freedoms for people of all faiths. In the article, Vischer explains that Sharia means “the way to the watering place.” It refers to the correct way of practicing religion and rules that govern the lives of Muslims, including conduct between spouses, behavior at funerals and even etiquette. He said that supporters of anti-Sharia laws demonstrate a lack of understanding of how such legislative initiatives inhibit freedom to practice one’s faith.
“I think supporters of these measures display a two-fold lack of knowledge,” Vischer said. “First, they associate Sharia with its most extreme manifestations without recognizing the extent to which Sharia guides the day-to-day lives of many Muslims on more routine matters such as marriage and divorce, business financing, and contracts.
“Second, they do not realize that our legal system is well-equipped to handle particular cases in which a religious tradition creates conflicts with the rule of law. Our legal system can guard against those harms without marginalizing the entire faith tradition.”
Vischer’s “First Things” article was prompted by recent initiatives in several states across the country where some lawmakers have attempted to ensure, through legislation, that Sharia law would not “creep” into the American legal system. Most of the recent attempts to ban Sharia or other forms of “foreign law” as stated in the language of a bill recently proposed in Virginia legislature, have failed to become law or were eventually struck down in the courts as unconstitutional.
The most highly publicized of the recent spate of anti-Sharia efforts took place two years ago when voters in Oklahoma overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that effectively banned Sharia law from being used in that state’s court system or statutory code. Just days later the law was challenged on legal grounds that it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. And in January of this year the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that rendered the law unconstitutional. But legal scholars like Vischer, a Catholic, and Qalinle, a Muslim, believe that many lawmakers and the public in general still lack awareness of the dangers that such laws pose to the religious liberties of all.
“These types of legislation, they go against the core American constitutional principles,” Qalinle said, “the First Amendment freedom of religion and other core American religious liberties. The reality is that America is a country founded on freedom and folks come here from all faith backgrounds to practice religious freedom. These laws are really an attack on the religious freedoms of a large segment of society and specifically on those who belong to the Muslim faith.”
Local impact felt
As recently as this spring, one Minnesota lawmaker introduced such a bill, but withdrew it from consideration in the state senate that same day. The language of the bill did not expressly state Sharia by name, but its text stated that it would be “the public policy of this state to protect its citizens from the application of foreign laws when the application of a foreign law will result in the violation of a right guaranteed by the Minnesota Constitution or the United States Constitution, including but not limited to due process, freedom of religion, speech, or press, and any right of privacy or marriage as specifically defined by the constitution of this state.”
Vischer wrote in his “First Things” article that such legislative proposals are redundant at best, because “American courts are generally not in the business of issuing rulings that violate the litigants’ constitutional rights.” Event still, he wrote, “these initiatives should be vigorously contested by the defenders of religious liberty.”
Qalinle said the negative publicity that comes from such proposed legislation only serves to foment a lack of understanding of Sharia and the Muslim faith. As a result, he said the word "Sharia" has become tantamount to a derogatory term in some circles.
“When you hear about these bills being introduced by lawmakers and hear lawmakers say they support such types of legislation it becomes problematic not only from a legal standpoint, but also a public relations standpoint,” Qalinle said.
“These legislative proposals only serve to continue to provide misguided understandings of Sharia and what it means to the lives of Muslims. That is why it is important to talk about how these laws not only target a specific religion, but also infringe on the right of religious freedoms of all.”