By Rob Boston
In November, voters in Oklahoma approved a misguided state constitutional amendment designed to ban Islamic law – known as Shariah – in the state.
The fact that there was no effort to impose Shariah law in Oklahoma and that even if there were the First Amendment would prevent it did not sway Sooner State voters; 70 percent of them were apparently concerned about a coming wave of mandatory burqa wearing and backed the measure at the polls.
It didn’t take a federal court long to put a hold on this foolishness. U.S. District Court Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange’s Nov. 29 ruling should have been a strong signal to other states to drop the anti-Muslim crusade.
Sadly, legislators in Tennessee weren’t listening. Two of them have managed to come up with an anti-Shariah proposal that is probably even more unconstitutional.
A bill sponsored by State Sen. Bill Ketron and Rep. Judd Matheny would give Tennessee’s attorney general the power to investigate complaints about Shariah and crack down on anyone practicing it.
But wait, it gets worse. The practitioners could end up in prison!
Despite what some people think, Shariah isn’t all about imposing Islamic beliefs in areas like crime, dress and social customs. Much of it deals with purely religious matters – when to pray, how to pray, where to pray, etc. Under Ketron and Matheny’s bill, any Muslim engaging in these strictly private religious activities would technically be in violation of the law.
Matheny, who is speaker pro tempore of the Tennessee House of Representatives, told the Nashville Tennessean that he never intended to ban religious activities. He told the newspaper, “I’m still researching it. My intent is to educate and to look at it.”
Just a word of advice to Rep. Matheny: In the future, it might be a good idea to do the research before you introduce a blatantly unconstitutional bill.
The Tennessean reported the bill is based on model legislation given to Matheny by the Tennessee Eagle Forum. That explains a lot. The Eagle Forum, founded by Religious Right warhorse Phyllis Schlafly to combat feminism in the 1970s, has never had a good grasp on the meaning of the First Amendment.
So let me explain the situation to Ketron, Matheny and the Tennessee Eagle Forum: Your bill gives the state attorney general the power to investigate people who are taking part in purely religious activities, such as prayer. That’s strike one.
Your bill proposes putting people behind bars for voluntarily choosing to live by a religious code. That’s strike two.
Your bill promotes ignorance and fosters a corrosive form of hatred by singling out practitioners of a certain faith for abuse and harassment. That’s strike three.
You guys are out. Do your constituents a favor by yanking this appalling piece of legislation. Trust me, it’s better to pull it now than squander precious tax dollars on a legal battle later.
If you don’t believe me, just ask the taxpayers of Oklahoma.
P.S. Mother Jones reports that the real force behind the Tennessee bill is a man named David Yerushalmi, whom they say flirts with white supremacist views. This just gets worse and worse.