In my last post I talked about the fear that Sharia laws would replace or subvert US Constitutional laws. The claim is that Sharia has creeped into the UK and, if we are not hypervigilant, will creep into the US. I said that the UK is not really tolerant of Sharia laws, it is mostly just indifferent to Arabs and Muslims. I argued that this is based on a lack of respect and that if Sharia laws should impact “proper” Brits, they would rise up in enthusiastic support of traditional British law. But as long as female genital mutilations and child brides are restricted to Arabs, no big deal (this is not my view, this is what I think is the attitude of most Brits and explains why there are zero child-bride convictions and few FGM convictions).
A considerably more measured and thoughtful essay, “The Dangers of Anti-Sharia Laws,” was recently published in First Things by Robert K. Vischer, Professor of Law at the University of St. Thomas Law School in Minneapolis. Vischer noted the difficulty of coming up with cases where Sharia law has been allowed to trump US law– he was unable to come up with a single case. So-called “honor killings” are treated in the US as murder. There is no exculpation based on Sharia law or Muslim belief. Moreover, there is no orthodox Muslim belief in support of honor murders–it is a cultural practice, not a religious requirement. Continuing to claim it is a legitimate Muslim practice will only further enflame irrational fears of Arabs and Muslims–fears of creeping Sharia.
Vischer notes that Sharia applies mostly to spheres of human behavior to which US law is mostly indifferent–matters of personal morality or even etiquette. And there are many schools of interpretation of Sharia–from very loose and liberal to very conservative and extreme. It is a mistake to let our understanding of Sharia be dictated by a small minority of extremists.
Vischer’s main point is that anti-Sharia laws discriminate against a particular religion and so violate the US constitution. That has not prevented Republican Presidential nominees from voicing their support for anti-Sharia laws. Vischer cautions:
Before Christian and Jewish believers support such measures, they should consider the way these laws not only misunderstand the faith of their Muslim fellow citizens but threaten their own religious liberty. Muslim Americans who seek to use Sharia are not asking the American legal system to adopt Islamic rules of conduct, penal or otherwise. Muslims have introduced Sharia in court not in an attempt to establish a freestanding source of law binding on litigants but rather in recognition of the norms to which the litigants have already agreed to be bound.
And this, he notes, is nothing more than contract law. The courts recognize the legitimacy of contracts, as long as they are not in violation of the US constitution. Just as distinctly Christian and Jewish contracts (between a pastor and congregation, or between married couples, or a will between two believers) are typically binding, so, too, are Muslim Sharia-informed contracts. However, if such contracts conflict with basic human rights or are entered into under duress, they are not valid.
Vischer challenges Christians to fight anti-Sharia laws, and the intolerance they tacitly affirm and enflame, and to seek to keep US courts open to religious believers and to religious beliefs (Muslim, Christian or Jew).