USA (MNN) — A panel discussion in Tennessee moderated by
the First Amendment Center took place this week, addressing a growing legal
concern in the United States.
There are roughly 20 states that have legislative measures
filed barring judges from considering Sharia law in their decisions. Four states have passed legislation. An
earlier restatement of a Tennessee law would effectively criminalize the
practice of Islam, punishing those individuals with up to 15 years in prison.
Open Doors advocacy coordinator Lindsay Vessey explains, "Sharia
law is basically Islamic law, and that deals with everything from legal issues
to social issues and marital issues–it basically controls every aspect of
In recent years, a movement has been growing steadily as
more Muslims come to the U.S. to live. Vessey says, "In Western countries,
a lot of Muslims would like to bring Sharia law. Their argument is essentially that to be
culturally sensitive to them, these countries should allow them to govern
themselves by their own Sharia law, and that it doesn't really contradict or
cause any problems with the existing legal structure."
Opponents of such laws say the proposals reflect an "Islamaphobia" aimed at restricting the presence and religious beliefs of
Muslims. However, Vessey explains, "It
actually takes away the rights of people who maybe don't want to be subjected
to Sharia law, but because they were born into a Muslim family who ascribes to
it, they're actually forced into it. That's a really dangerous situation, to have two parallel systems of law
going on in a country."
In other countries experimenting with the concept, the
Sharia law system has proven to be chaotic.
"One of the best examples where we can see this is in England.
There are hundreds of Sharia courts there. Many of the Muslim immigrants use
those courts as opposed to using the British legal system."
The issue is that "under Sharia law, something that's
illegal is to convert away from Islam. That means that if you are a Muslim in England
and you are being subjected to Sharia law, you can't convert to Christianity,
or you can't even leave your faith and become an atheist," explains Vessey.
Under that scenario, there is no religious freedom. Vessey says the argument that Sharia does not
conflict with an existing legal system also fails the Constitution test. "You can be punished under that
law. That's a court that would be in
direct contradiction to our laws here in the United States–the freedom of
religion/ freedom of expression is one of our dearest-held constitutional
Similar to other bills in the U.S., the language does not
mention "Sharia" specifically. For
example, the Michigan bill, introduced by State Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grandville,
says the ban would "limit the application and enforcement…of foreign laws
that would impair constitutional rights."
Vessey says although Muslim groups are threatening to
challenge the constitutionality of the proposals, the legal argument will
likely be what defenders are focused on. "Everything that goes at the
heart of what Americans believe and what is enshrined in our Constitution is
contradicted by Sharia law in terms of religious freedom. Something should be
done to prevent having Sharia courts and Sharia law being used side-by-side in the United States like is already being done in England."
As the opponents and proponents of the bills continue to
make their cases, Vessey says it's important not to forget the reason why
believers are part of this discussion. "The
one thing that we can do is to pray that their hearts and eyes are opened
to the message of the Gospel. Pray for opportunities to share with Muslims
in our communities."