The New Jersey Star-Ledger summed up how the New Jersey case showed the needlessness of anti-sharia measures: “In 2009, a Hudson County judge gave too much weight to the religious beliefs of a Moroccan man accused of sexually assaulting his wife. The decision was overturned on appeal, and now the convicted defendant, who lives in Bayonne, faces up to 20 years in state prison.” What we see here is a judicial error, not the vulnerability of American law to “creeping sharia.”
Yet for months, prominent conservative politicians like Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann dignified the disreputable anti-sharia movement by mentioning the threat of sharia in campaign appearances. Rick Santorum, an erstwhile supporter of religious liberty, signed an anti-sharia pledge. This is a great political miscalculation. Anti-sharia measures like Kansas’s risk discrediting the political effort to fight the Obama administration’s unprecedented attack on religious liberty via the contraceptive and abortifacient mandate.
Other leading conservatives have recognized this danger. Tom Lynch, an officer of the conservative Thomas More Law Center, drew a sharp response from prominent conservatives when he tweeted, “Believe Islam a religion, then support the Becket Fund. Believe it will destroy US, then supt thomasmore.org.”
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty replied by calling on the Thomas More Law Center to end its involvement with the anti-sharia movement, and Robert P. George of Princeton University issued a statement saying, “This is no time for people of faith to be fighting amongst ourselves or casting unjust aspersions on each other. If the Thomas More Law Center professes itself to be a defender of religious liberty, let it follow the lead of the Becket Fund in standing up for the rights of all. Religious-freedom organizations should be leading the fight against religious bigotry; they should not be practicing it against our Muslim fellow citizens or anyone else.”
It is particularly disappointing to see Sam Brownback — a committed Catholic with deep ties to the evangelical-Protestant community and a strong record on religious-liberty matters — signing an anti-sharia bill. Addressing the 2006 Religious Liberty Dinner in Washington, D.C., Brownback said that people denied religious liberty “deserve our efforts” to vindicate their rights. He cited the Epistle to the Hebrews in calling on those who possess liberty to remember “those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” Brownback’s point is as true today as ever: American Christians must stand for the religious liberty of Muslims if they are to argue persuasively for their own.
Perhaps the most acute irony of the anti-sharia movement is that it undermines our national security, in particular our ability to constructively engage peaceful Muslims and to take action against terrorists. In ways various and immeasurable, the anti-sharia movement’s implication that all Muslims are radicals amplifies resentments and fuels hate by encouraging Americans to view their neighbors with suspicion and distrust. Even worse, it threatens to turn our Muslim fellow citizens, and our Muslim allies abroad, against America.
The anti-sharia movement also undermines national security in much more concrete ways. Tom Lynch recently linked to a post by one Gary DeMar contending that instruction in the Arabic language in a New York City public school was part of a program of deliberate Islamization. Now, the real reason the school selected Arabic was to help it gain certification from the prestigious International Baccalaureate (IB) program, but DeMar brushed this fact aside: “I suspect that the IB program is more about the Islamization of America than anything else.”
Teaching Arabic in our schools, of course, is precisely the kind of thing that will help Americans combat terrorism. The fact that the anti-sharia people so readily oppose it shows they are much more concerned about the specter of “creeping sharia” than about readying our nation to intelligently counter immediate and ongoing terrorist threats. They would rather win a chimerical battle in the culture war than support policies that could provide critical aid to Americans engaged abroad who stand in need of agents, officers, and interpreters with a firm grasp of Arabic.
Unhinged rhetoric, if long enough tolerated, will eventually impose real costs. The National Conference of State Legislatures says anti-sharia measures already have been considered in 20 states, and Oklahoma, Arizona, Louisiana, and Tennessee have all enacted such measures. These bills put religious contracts on an unequal footing with secular ones without extending any new constitutional or legal protections to women in Muslim communities. Their conservative advocates embarrass the very name of “religious liberty” and endanger our national security.
Anti-Muslim bigots and their public apologists must be vigorously opposed by Americans who recognize the value of a religious voice in the public square and the imperative that all Americans be treated equally under the law, whether they are religious or irreligious, Christian, Muslim, or Jew.
— Matthew Schmitz is the deputy editor of First Things and can be reached via his Twitter handle, @matthewschmitz.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been amended since its initial posting.