Sharia Law: Constitutional Menace or a Religious Freedom?

When you hear the words, “Sharia Law,” what immediately comes to mind?  If you said an Islamic legal code that is incompatible with the laws of our nation and states, you would probably be in “good” company, at least in Oklahoma.  Whether or not you would be 100% correct is debatable. 

I must admit that when I hear “Sharia Law,” I do not have a positive dispostion toward this Islamic code.  I suspect this is the case with many people, including many Southern Baptists.  Our reticence in allowing Sharia Law to be used AT ALL in the United States may stem from its misuse in foreign lands, countries which simply lack the freedoms that we enjoy here in America.  Our sensibilities — rightly so — are offended when we hear stories of what most Americans would consider cruel and unusual punishment.  

To give you a general overview of Sharia Law, it can be divided into two main sections:

  1. The acts of worship, or al-ibadat, these include:
    1. Ritual Purification
    2. Prayers
    3. Fasts
    4. Charities
    5. Pilgrimage to Mecca
  2. Human interaction, or al-mu’amalat, which includes:
    1. Financial transactions
    2. Endowments
    3. Laws of inheritance
    4. Marriage, divorce, and child care
    5. Foods and drinks (including ritual slaughtering and hunting)
    6. Penal punishments
    7. Warfare and peace
    8. Judicial matters (including witnesses and forms of evidence)

I will not spend much time on the first section — Acts of Worship.  I would hope that most people, including Southern Baptists, would recognize and accept that Muslims have a First Amendment right to worship however they see fit.  Even when we disagree with the tenets of Islam (or any other religion), we should at least be willing to recognize that Muslims have the same religious freedoms that Southern Baptists do in this country.  We may not have to like what others believe or where they build mosques, but the moment we begin to limit others’ religious liberties (barring some clear violation of the law) is the moment when we walk away from not only our Baptist roots but our conservative values.  And, it becomes the moment when we open ourselves up for our own religious liberties to be violated.

But, when we so dislike a religious minority that we begin passing laws which single this minority out for special approbation, then we are dangerously close to violating principles that we should hold dear.  Oklahoma’s “Save Our State” amendment does just that.  Placed on the ballot by the state legislature, 70% of Oklahoma voters approved the amendment on November 2, 2010. 

What does Oklahoma need saving from?  Apparently Sharia Law.  What does the actual text of State Question 755, popularly known as the “Save Our State” amendment say:

The Courts provided for in subsection A of this section, when exercising their judicial authority, shall uphold and adhere to the law as provided in the United States Constitution, the Oklahoma Constitution, the United States Code, federal regulations promulgated pursuant thereto, established common law, the Oklahoma Statutes and rules promulgated pursuant thereto, and if necessary the law of another state of the United States provided the law of the other state does not include Sharia Law, in making judicial decisions. The courts shall not look to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures. Specifically, the courts shall not consider international law or Sharia Law. The provisions of this subsection shall apply to all cases before the respective courts including, but not limited to, cases of first impression.

From a legal standpoint, there are multiple problems with the way the amendment was written, not least of which it singles out Islamic Sharia Law as the only religious code that cannot be used in the Oklahoma judicial system.  That explains at least one reason why a Federal Judge enjoined the law from going into effect.  In beginning her November 29, 2011 opinion, Chief District Court Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange quoted from a U.S. Supreme Court case:

The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.  W. Va. State Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 638 (1943)

While no religious beliefs or tenets of faith — be they Muslim, Jewish, or Christian — should replace or otherwise conflict with the laws of the states and nation, why should Islamic law — and Islamic law only — be singled out by the Oklahoma legislature for complete and utter rejection within the legal system?  If your answer to that is “Because it’s Islam and Muslims who are affected, not Christians,” then we maybe heading down a slippery slope — however well-intentioned — to a place with unintended consequences.

Are there parts of Sharia Law which are incompatible with the Constitutional framework of the United States and the 50 states?  Yes.  When Sharia conflicts with the laws of our nation or state, should we continue to use the laws of our nation and state to protect the rights and safety of our citizens?  Absolutely.  The laws of the state and nation should always trump Sharia Law (or any other religious laws that groups might live by in their private lives).

But, are we now saying that NO aspect of Sharia Law is compatible with the legal system that we have in place in this country?  Are we willing to say that religious tenets of faith — in this case Sharia Law — simply cannot be used anywhere, anytime, anyplace, even if the specific religious principle does not conflict with the laws of the land?  Before you answer those questions, do you also want to take that same approach with Christian religious principles integrated into contracts and what has come to be known as “Christian mediation?”  Southwestern Seminary and Tarrant Baptist Association might have different answers to that question, but we must be consistent with how we view “religious law” as it relates to our legal jurisprudence.  Apparently Dr. Richard Land, the President of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, also believes the voters of Oklahoma got it right when they exercised their “people power” in democratically rejecting Sharia Law.

Are we no longer willing to accommodate people’s religious preferences and beliefs within our jurisprudence, even when these preferences and beliefs do not conflict with our laws?  It seems that we want our own religious beliefs accommodated, but with Islam, we are simply unwilling to grant them what the Constitution already does.  Maybe we arrive at these views because we (in the sense of Christians) have been in the majority for so long.  We do not see the need to accommodate others’ religious beliefs and practices because, with rare exceptions, we don’t need anyone to accommodate ours. 

At least not yet.  There may come a day when Southern Baptist Christians are singled out for special approbation by the government.  That day maybe here sooner than we think.  If we fail to stand up for the rights of religious minorities today — even those folks who we strenuously disagree with — can we really expect anyone to stand up for our rights when we come under attack?


Comments

Sharia Law: Constitutional Menace or a Religious Freedom? — 7 Comments

  1. There is a business sector based on providing things like loans that are “consistent” with the rules of Sharia Law. The loan is apparently structured as a “lease” where the payment happens to be the same as principle + interest. I wonder if the participants take house interest as a deduction on their federal taxes.

    I seem to recall some statements from the OT about interest being forbidden. Do you happen to know if the OT Jews used similar arrangements to avoid the jubilee and the other debt relief rules? It would seem reasonable that they would.

  2. aSALAMuALLAHikum,

    SHARIAH LAW CONTAINED IN 114 SURAHS in AL’QURAN was made by ALLAH THE GREATEST CREATOR OF ALL ABOVE SKIES FOR :

    ALL SEEN/UNSEEN CREATURES & CREATIONS OF ALLAH UNDER SKIES IN THE END WILL ALWAYS OBEY ALLAH LAWS because ALLAH is
    the owner of life/death , ALLAH which give everything a life then ALLAH also which created death for everything under skies

    ALLAH which created sun to burn sea water go up in smog turn to clouds then ALLAH make clouds turn to rain falling down all over earth so that function of the life on earth goes on

    As we all know from ALLAH LAWS that water always fall down then tend to gather in lower surface &

    MUHAMMAD THE MESSENGER OF ALLAH
    taught us how to manage water energy
    that fall down from clouds for irrigation

    so on & so on

  3. Howell, How many serious Muslims are going to agree with only part of Sharia law being allowed? How is that religious freedom for them?

    We are already seeing the problems arise in very small issues such as the newer immigrants not allowing their daughters over 16 to be taught to speak English or insisting they completely cover at public school if under 16. Yes, these are fringe Muslims but they are getting their way and in the case of over 16 year old girls, violates their civil rights when they are 18. But they will be too ignorant to help themselves.

    I look to France, Netherlands, etc., to see the fallout from allowing any Sharia law to be enforced. The result is not pretty.

    Are you familiar with Geert Wilders? If not, I suggest you google him and listen to some of his speeches. Of course, his life is threatened all the time and he had to leave the Dutch parliament for being outspoken on this issue. His film Fitna was removed from youtube. I a glad I got to see it before it was removed. It simply quoted the Koran. Something every American ought to study.

    The difference with Sharia and Christianity is clear. One cannot be a true Muslim without practicing Sharia law. It defines Islam and cannot be seperated.

    they have freedom to worship. They even have the freedom to open Muslim schools. There are now two in my city. And they both teach Sharia law. How do I know this? Because several of the benefactors are Muslim doctors I know very well.

  4. I’m not sure I understand what you are saying here. You yourself said this:

    “Are there parts of Sharia Law which are incompatible with the Constitutional framework of the United States and the 50 states? Yes. When Sharia conflicts with the laws of our nation or state, should we continue to use the laws of our nation and state to protect the rights and safety of our citizens? Absolutely. The laws of the state and nation should always trump Sharia Law (or any other religious laws that groups might live by in their private lives).”

    Isn’t that all the Oklahoma law is saying when it says “The courts shall not look to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures”?

    This law was not about BANNING Sharia law, as so much of the media tried to make it out to be (thankfully you didn’t set up that straw man). It is about not using it to interpret American law. Why is that so bad? I wouldn’t expect Saudi Arabia to use the American Constitution to interpret their law, either. Each country has it’s own law and precedents behind those laws and judicial interpretations should be about “original intent.”

    I understand wanting to protect religious liberty, but I don’t see this as one of those battles.

    • Dan,

      Thanks for taking the time to read and to comment. It has been a while since I wrote this post, so I had to go back and refresh my memory. In answer to your question, I think that the wording of the Oklahoma Constitutional amendment that was overwhelmingly approved by the voters, but subsequently rejected by the courts, said much more than what you may think it did. In the first place, the amendment singled out Sharia law. It did not include any other religious laws that would be prohibited. If Oklahomans did not want their courts to “look to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures,” then they did not have to specifically single out Sharia law. As I reread my post, my main concern was that we already allow religious tenants of our faith to make their way into our legal system. The courts, by-and-large, allow parties to incorporate their religion into contracts. The specific example that I used was “Christian mediation” clauses in contracts. The secular courts will uphold those clauses, even though they are rooted in Christian principles. These principles are not in conflict with state and/or national laws or constitutions and are therefore valid. That was my main point. As long as Sharia law (or any other religious law) does not conflict with the laws and constitutional rights of the United States of America, then I see no reason why it could not be used in this limited circumstance.

      I am in general agreement that I do not believe that courts should look to the laws and/or cultures of other countries when interpreting our own laws. However, I recognize that in our system of government — with checks and balances — the courts will have the final authority in how they interpret our laws. While the legislature (state or national) might be able to limit the jurisdiction of the courts so as to limit what types of cases come before the courts, I would say that it would be virtually impossible — barring a Federal Constitutional amendment — for a state to limit how they arrive at their decisions. I’m not saying that I agree with that, but it is a reality that is part of our judicial system. You maybe right about this not being “one of those battles.” Then again, if our nation continues down the path that we are on, I may even revise my own opinion about allowing Sharia law, even in limited circumstances. Thanks again for stopping by. God bless,

      Howell

    • Dan,

      I appreciate you stopping by and that your friend recommended my site. I never know how people get here and/ or why they come. Thanks for the kind words. I can relate about commenting. I usually will not comment on someone else’s post unless I strongly agree or strongly disagree (usually the latter). Thanks again and God bless,

      Howell

Leave a Reply