By Rob Boston
Just in case anyone is wondering, allow me to state, for the record, that Americans United for Separation of Church and State does not support the imposition of Islamic law on anyone in this country.
Of course, it would be unlikely that this would ever happen. Estimates of the U.S. Muslim population vary, but the high end is about 6 million – in a nation of more than 300 million people.
More to the point, the First Amendment protects us from government actions based exclusively on religious dogma. Thus, the current trend in some states to pass laws or constitutional amendments banning Shariah is a strange overreaction to a non-existent problem.
USA Today has an interesting story about this mini-trend today. It notes that anti-Shariah proposals have surfaced in legislatures in Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah.
These efforts are ongoing even though a federal judge has temporarily blocked a constitutional amendment in Oklahoma designed to “save our state” from Islamic law. The possibility that the Sooner State – where less than one half of 1 percent of the population is Muslim – would fall under the sway of Shariah law was always remote. But that didn’t stop 70 percent of state residents from voting for the measure.
Much of this is motivated by religious bigotry. Demagogues like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich (who says we need a federal law to stop Shariah), are recklessly playing the anti-Muslim card. To hear them tell it, we’re all going to be forced to bow toward Mecca next week.
Why do they do it? The short answer is that Religious Right leaders always needs fresh targets for their hate and rage. Over the years, they’ve drafted gay people, feminists, liberals, non-believers and others into that role. They’d like to add Muslims to the line-up. It’s good for fund-raising and for scaring people into voting the way you want them to.
As AU Executive Director Barry W. Lynn noted in the USA Today story, “It’s just fear mongering tinged with anti-Islamic sentiment.”
What’s most amusing about this is that several of the states on the above list do need to be protected from religious law – usually of the fundamentalist Christian variety.
Consider South Carolina, with its officially Christian “I Believe” license plate that AU had to stop in court. You might also recall Louisiana’s constant efforts to slip creationism into public schools or repeated attempts in Tennessee to mandate display of the Ten Commandments in public schools and government buildings.
And Utah is worried about Shariah? Utah! The Beehive State may indeed face pressure from an aggressive religious group determined to write its dogma into law – some would say it already has that problem – but it doesn’t come from Muslims.
To folks in these states (and others) who remain worried that their moms are going to be forced to wear a chador downtown, I have a solution: Join Americans United. We’ve been protecting people from government-imposed religion for more than 60 years now.
We do it by applying a not-so-secret weapon. It’s called the separation of church and state. Try supporting it. You would be amazed what it can do for you.