5. Shariah Law – Coming To A Courtroom Near You
For more than six years, much of the American right has been afflicted with a feverish brain disorder that writer Adam Serwer calls “sharia panic.”
The fever shows no signs of breaking any time soon.
The disorder is a delusional and apparently highly contagious conspiracy theory that contends American Muslims are trying to undermine the U.S. Constitution and maybe even overthrow the government someday by implementing Shariah religious law in legal proceedings across the country.
The truth is that Shariah is essentially a code of ethics, or, as The New York Times put it, “Islam’s road map for living morally and achieving salvation.” In some Islamic countries, it forms the basis of an often harsh legal code that governs crime, public morality and other matters. It is occasionally used in other countries in private civil contracts between individuals (such as agreements between spouses to abide by its precepts in any future divorce), just as Christians or Jews will sometimes draw up private contracts about similar matters based on their own religions.
But it cannot, under the Constitution, supersede American law.
Nevertheless, to a growing number of mostly Republican legislators from Vermont to Alabama, Shariah has become — particularly around election time — a blueprint for world domination. So to thwart the sneaky Muslims — and pick up a few more votes — politicians have introduced bills in almost three dozen states in recent years, seeking to ban Shariah law in U.S. courts. In the last five years, eight states have actually passed such needless measures.
“All of this in spite of the fact that no instance of sharia law superseding U.S. Constitutional law exists,” Todd Green, author of The Fear of Islam: An Introduction to Islamophobia in the West, wrote in the Huffington Post this spring. In any case, he added, “at one percent of the population, Muslims are not in the position to impose any kind of law on any state.”
The bills are essentially the same across the country. They are modeled after legislation written by a 59-year-old Hasidic Jew, David Yerushalmi, a lawyer who is widely considered to be the driving force behind the anti-Shariah movement. He is also, according to the Anti-Defamation League, a man “with a record of anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-black bigotry.” One of Yerushalmi’s clients and close allies is Pamela Geller, perhaps the best-known and most unhinged anti-Muslim ideologue in the United States.
Yerushalmi began writing his model statute — “American Laws for American Courts” — in 2009. The statute, according to the Times, “would prevent state judges from considering foreign laws or rulings that violate constitutional rights in the United States.” Yerushalmi admitted later that his purpose was not so much to ban the imposition of Islamic religious law — already impossible under the Constitution — but “to get people asking this question, ‘What is Shariah?’”
In 2010, backed by a $60,000 campaign funded by the Muslim-bashing group ACT! for America, the bill was passed in Oklahoma with 70% of the vote. But the Oklahoma law explicitly targeted Shariah and was later struck down by a federal court. After that, the anti-Shariah movement wised up and watered down its bigotry, shifting its focus and language onto banning all foreign laws.
But “as these restrictions pile up,” according to an article in 2014 on the website of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, “the bans come full circle and reveal their true purpose: to demonize the Islamic faith.”
While conceding that Shariah was “not an imminent threat in Oklahoma yet,” Republican then-state Rep.Rex Duncan, a chief sponsor of that state’s anti-Shariah bill, told ABC News in 2010 that “[i]t’s a storm on the horizon in other states,” adding, “The only entities that could oppose this measure are those that admittedly support applying international law and sharia law in American courts.”
Cathie Adams, the former chairwoman of the Texas Republican Party and current leader of the Texas chapter of Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, has said that immigration reform is a “tool of Satan that will lead to the enactment of Sharia law and usher in the End Times.”
The anti-Shariah movement is not confined to statehouses across the country. It has national allies as well. In a speech to the American Enterprise Institute in 2010, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said, “I believe Shariah is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and in the world as we know it.” In 2011, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain told ThinkProgress that he would not appoint a Muslim to his administration or as a federal judge because there is “this creeping attempt, there is this attempt to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government.” In 2012, as a candidate for the U.S. Senate from Texas, Ted Cruz described Shariah as “an enormous problem.”