I am grateful to have a response to my article on anti-sharia laws from Andrew Bostom, one of their most informed and intelligent advocates. He is a man who would not fail to make the strongest possible case for his position, and so the weakness of his response must be seen as reflecting on the basic merits of the anti-sharia movement itself.
In my article, I argued that anti-sharia laws like the one just signed in Kansas by Sam Brownback are useless at best and dangerous at worst. At best, they’re a legislative tautology with no immediate effect, and so no immediate harms; they declare illegal what is already illegal and unconstitutional what is already unconstitutional.
But they have secondary effects we cannot ignore. To insult our Muslim fellow citizens with spurious laws risks their alienation for no good reason, giving credence to radicals who falsely claim that America is at war with all Muslims while gaining nothing in return. Here, as in its opposition to Arabic instruction in public schools, the anti-sharia movement puts phantom fears ahead of concrete security concerns.
At their worst, anti-sharia laws not only insult our Muslim fellow citizens but also attack the religious liberty of all Americans. Some such laws put contracts that reference a religious legal system (whether Christian canon law, Jewish Halakhic law, or sharia) on unequal footing with an otherwise identical contract that makes no such reference. Why shouldn’t two Muslims be allowed to contract their marriage in accordance with sharia, so long as that contract does not otherwise run afoul of the law and basic constitutional norms?
Bostom offers no rebuttal to the above arguments. Instead, he assembles evidence suggesting that Muslims want sharia to spread. Fair enough, but surely Catholics would love to see canon law cover the globe, as would be the case if the Church succeeded in its evangelistic hope of winning all men to Christ. Of course, some of these Muslim voices are willing to use violence to advance their ends, but this tells us nothing about whether or not our legal system is vulnerable to sharia, or how representative these radical voices might be.
The only concrete evidence Bostom offers is a study “Sharia Law and American State Courts” that, he says, describes 50 conflicts between sharia and American law. The one case Bostom cites explicitly, from New Jersey, was already discussed in my piece — as an example of why we do not need new laws against Sharia but rather judges who understand American law. In another, from my home state of Nebraska, an immigrant from Iraq appealed to his understanding of sharia to defend his supposed marriage to (really a statutory rape of) a 13-year-old girl. The court immediately dismissed his claim as irrelevant, and he received a standard sentence. So much for the supposed “conflict.” Wherever sharia conflicts with American law, it has no standing. Period.
All this matters. The real threat today is not from “creeping sharia” but from an out-and-out assault on religious liberty emanating from the Obama administration. Through its aggressive attack on religious institutions in the Hosanna-Tabor case and through the abortifacient and contraceptive mandate, the Obama administration is trying to move the goal posts on religious freedom. It’s especially important now, then, to defend religious freedom. Whether for Catholics who do not want to be forced to pay for abortifacients or Muslims who want to make a contract according to principles of Islamic finance, we must — as both Robert P. George and Rob Vischer have persuasively argued — stand for the religious liberty of all.