Anti-Shariah movement changes tactics and gains success

(RNS) When Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved a 2010 ballot measure that prohibits state courts from considering Islamic law, or Shariah, the Council of American-Islamic Relations filed a lawsuit within two days challenging the constitutionality of the measure, and won.
But when Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed a similar measure, one that its sponsor said would forbid Shariah, on April 19 of this year, no legal challenges were mounted.

Why the change?

 

The biggest difference is that the older bill — and others like it — singled out Islam and Shariah, but also raised concerns that they could affect Catholic canon law or Jewish law. Many early anti-Shariah bills also made references to international or foreign law, which worried businesses that the new bills would undermine contracts and trade with foreign companies.

 

The new bills, however, are more vague and mention only foreign laws, with no references to Shariah or Islam. They also make specific exceptions for international trade. All of that makes them harder to challenge as a violation of religious freedom.

 

“These bills don’t have any real-world effect. Their only purpose is to allow people to vilify Islam,” said Corey Saylor, CAIR’s legislative affairs director, of the more recent bills.

The change in language seems to have helped such bills advance in several states. And while these bills no longer single out Shariah, it is often understood that Shariah is the target, which many legislators make no secret of.

 

The driving force behind these new versions of anti-Shariah laws is “anti-Muslim bigotry plain and simple,” said Daniel Mach of the American Civil Liberties Union, speaking on a panel in Washington Thursday (May 16). To those agitating for such measures, “Islam is the face of the enemy,” he said.

 

To date, Oklahoma is the sixth state — joining Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, South Dakota, and Tennessee — to adopt a law prohibiting courts from using foreign or international law, with some exceptions, in their decisions.

 

This year, at least 36 anti-foreign law bills have been proposed in 15 states, down from 51 bills in 23 states in 2011. While most of this year’s anti-foreign law bills have failed, several others, have advanced:

A distressing map of religious freedom around the world

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has issued a report highlighting those it calls the worst violators of religious freedom in the world. Among them are many Asian and Middle Eastern governments, although some Western European countries are also included.

 

The report from the bipartisan advisory body divides violators into three categories. Fifteen “tier 1″ nations, marked red on the above map, have committed “particularly severe” violations that are “systemic, ongoing and egregious.” That includes all the countries you’d expect, as well as a few worsening problem areas, such as Egypt and Nigeria. The “tier 2″ countries are said to be “on the threshold” of meeting tier 1 status and include states that might have serious problems but, often, are at least making an effort to address them. A small third category of nations under “monitoring” for violations includes, among other states, some in Western Europe.

 

The report isn’t just about documenting abuses: The tier 1 countries can be officially designated as “countries of particular concern” by the U.S. State Department, at which point the president is legally required to follow up with some sort of action, recommended by the report. It might suggest, for example, engaging with Burmese civil society groups to promote tolerance or working with Pakistani lawmakers to improve legislation.

 

The report also discusses a trend in Japan it calls “kidnapping and forced religious de-conversion.”

 

Some readers, particularly those from countries highlighted in the map above, may wonder why the report includes nothing on the United States, which has seen some local and state-level movements to expel or suppress mosques or other forms of public worship by Muslims. And it’s a fair question. Alas, the commission exists to make recommendations to the U.S. State Department, which of course does not have oversight over the United States. Still, fairly or not, U.S. representatives who seek to promote religious freedom abroad risk having their advice deflected because some Tennessee officials tried to block construction of a mosque. If nothing else, it’s a reminder that religious freedom is an ongoing process as well as a state of being.

Tennessee May Deliberately Exclude Muslim Schools From New Voucher Program

Several conservative lawmakers in Tennessee are throwing the brakes on a fast-moving bill that would divert money away from public schools and towards vouchers for students to attend private or parochial schools. Republicans are taking a second look at the bill after the possibility arose that some Islamic schools could apply for the same funding made available to other religious schools.

The bill is a top priority for Republican Governor Bill Haslam, but several anti-religion lawmakers in the state senate, led by Sen. Bill Ketron who sponsored several anti-Islam bills in the last few years, are hoping to strip away the ability for any school that caters to Muslim children and their families to receive public dollars:

“This is an issue we must address,” state Sen. Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville) said. “I don’t know whether we can simply amend the bill in such a way that will fix the issue at this point.”

State Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) and Tracy each expressed their concerns Friday over Senate Bill 0196, commonly called the “School Voucher Bill” and sponsored by fellow Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville), which would give parents of children attending failing public schools a voucher with which to enroll in a private school.

Fears About Shariah Law Take Hold In Tennessee

It’s getting tougher to be a Republican in some parts of the country while also fully accepting the practice of Islam.

In Tennessee, an incumbent in the U.S. House found herself on the defensive after being called soft on Shariah law, the code that guides Muslim beliefs and actions. And the state’s governor has been forced to explain why he hired a Muslim.

Lee Douglas, a dentist just south of Nashville and an anti-Shariah activist, points to the Muslim woman hired in Tennessee’s economic development office as evidence of an “infiltration” of Islam in government. Douglas helped draft a resolution criticizing the governor and Islam. A version of the document has been signed by a growing list of GOP executive committees, from rural counties to the state’s wealthiest.

“By stopping this now, we’re going to save ourselves a lot of difficulty in the future,” he says.

The number of Muslims in Tennessee remains tiny, but it is growing. Many come as refugees. Others are college professors. They’re planting roots in one of only three states where, according to a Pew Forum survey, more than half of the population is evangelical protestant.

Douglas believes Islam is diametrically opposed to his faith.

Besides the federal legislation, more than 20 states have considered bills banning the use of Shariah law. The proposals are a solution in search of a problem, according to many. But to the anti-Shariah crowd, they are another way to get their fears taken seriously.

Tennessee mosque receives final occupancy permit, was subject of 2-year legal battle

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — A Tennessee mosque has received its final approval after a nearly two-year legal battle to prevent it from opening.

Islamic Center of Murfreesboro board chairman Essam Fathy said Thursday he was relieved and happy the mosque has its permanent occupancy permit.

Since construction was approved in May 2010, the mosque has been targeted by vandalism, arson and a bomb threat.

A group of neighbors sued Rutherford County to try to stop construction. Among other things, they claimed that local Muslims were compelled by their religion to try to overthrow the U.S. Constitution and replace it with Islamic law.

That claim was dismissed, but construction approvals were voided briefly for other reasons before a federal judge last month cleared the way for the mosque to open.

Anti-Sharia Activists Influencing Tennessee GOP

Thursday, August 09th, 2012, by Blake Farmer

It’s getting tougher to be a Republican in Tennessee while also fully accepting the practice of Islam.

 

An incumbent in the U.S. House found herself on the defensive after being called soft on Sharia law, and the governor has been forced to explain why he hired a Muslim as part of a growing public push to raise suspicions of Islam.

 

“By stopping this now, we’re going to save ourselves a lot of difficulty in the future,” says Lee Douglas, a dentist in Brentwood who sees what he calls an “infiltration” of Islam in federal and state government.

 

Douglas points to the appointment of Samar Ali to work in Tennessee’s economic development office. He and others drafted a resolution criticizing the governor and making a case that Islam is bent on world domination.

 

A version of the document has been signed by a growing list of county-level Republican executive committees, including the state’s wealthiest and arguably most influential GOP stronghold of Williamson County.

 

Douglas uses the term Sharia, laws outlined in Muslim holy books, almost interchangeably with the religion itself.

 

He says the government should be showing deference to the religion on which the country was founded – Christianity. Instead, Douglas sees the U.S. Justice Department going to bat for Muslims, who make up one percent of the state and the U.S. as a whole.

 

Federal courts intervened in a lawsuit that attempted to keep the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro from opening.

Tennessee Republican Primary Candidates Wage Anti-Islam Contest

NASHVILLE, Tenn., Aug 1 (Reuters) – An argument over who is more opposed to the Islamic faith and the construction of a mosque near Nashville has become an unlikely issue in a nasty Tennessee Republican congressional primary to be decided on Thursday.

Freshman Republican Representative Diane Black is challenged by Lou Ann Zelenik, who lost to Black in a primary to represent the rural district two years ago by less than 300 votes.

The heart of the struggle is over the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, about 30 miles (48 km) south of Nashville, which has been controversial since construction began two years ago.

Zelenik, who vigorously opposed the mosque and warned of potential terrorist connections, said Black was not forceful enough in her opposition.

“I will work to stop the Islamization of our society, and do everything possible to prevent Sharia law from circumventing our laws and our Constitution,” Zelenik said.

Some states dominated by Republicans have passed laws to prevent Islamic or Sharia law from applying in U.S. court cases. The United States legal system is founded in the U.S. Constitution.

But a wealthy conservative donor, Nashville health care investor Andrew Miller, has weighed in on the side of Zelenik, contributing $105,100 to a new group called Citizens 4 Ethics in Government, according to the latest reports the group had submitted to the Federal Election Commission as of July 20.

The group has spent nearly $188,000 on media and automated telephone calls with the goal to unseat Black.

Miller is also chairman and executive director of the Tennessee Freedom Coalition, a conservative non-profit which lists as the top issue on its website: “Educate citizens on the realities of Sharia and stop the growth of Radical Islam.”

Tennessee Muslims feel blessed this Ramadan after federal court rules in their favor

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — The Muslim holy month of Ramadan is always a joyful time for believers, but a Tennessee congregation was feeling especially blessed this year as they worshipped Friday.
Opponents spent two years trying to halt construction of a new mosque for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, but a federal judge ruled this week the congregation has a right to worship there as soon as the building is ready.
“Ramadan this year reaches us at a very special time for us as a community,” Imam Ossama Bahloul told the congregation at Friday prayers. “We have received the good news about the federal court not standing on our side, but standing on the side of the Constitution
Although there has been an Islamic center in Murfreesboro for 30 years, the new building brought vehement opposition, including a lawsuit, a large rally and even vandalism, arson and a bomb threat.
Opponents of the mosque, who used the issue to raise wider arguments against the faith of Islam, have not commented to The Associated Press on the federal ruling.
Joe Brandon Jr., an attorney for mosque opponents, told Murfreesboro newspaper The Daily News Journal that he is exploring options for legal action.

Anti-Islamic Activist Dumps $100 K into Tennessee Primary

A new super PAC targeting a Tennessee House primary has raised all its funds from a board member of a local anti-Islamic conservative group who is also the one-time finance chairman of one of the candidates in the race.

Citizens 4 Ethics in Government registered as a super PAC with the Federal Election Commission on July 2. Its first disclosure, filed today, shows that it has raised all of its $105,000 in funds from Andrew Miller, the owner of Nashville-based Healthmark Ventures and a conservative activist who helps lead the anti-Islamic Tennessee Freedom Coalition. The group has spent more than $30,000 so far on the 6th Congressional District primary contest between incumbent Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) and tea party activist Lou Ann Zelenik.

Miller worked briefly with Zelenik’s campaign before quitting abruptly, according to Zelinek’s campaign manager Jay Heine. Zelenik, who has made opposition to the building of an Islamic Center in Murfreesboro, Tenn. a major issue in her campaign, was the executive director of the Coalition before leaving to run for congress.
The Coalition lists opposition to the growth of radical Islam and the promotion of “cultural cohesion” among its goals, among other conservative causes. In April 2011 the group hosted Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders as a speaker; Wilders is known across Europe for his anti-immigration and anti-Islamic politics. He has called for the banning of the Quran and called Islam a totalitarian ideology rather than a religion.

Texas Man Is Accused of Threatening Tennessee Mosque

A Texas man was indicted Thursday, accused of threatening to use violence to stop construction of a mosque that for two years has divided the community of Murfreesboro, Tenn., and has become a national barometer of anti-Muslim sentiment. The United States Justice Department said the indictment was an aggressive stance in support of religious freedom and was intended as a warning to people who might resort to violence and other illegal activity to prevent the mosque or any other religious institution to operate.

“What we’re hoping is that this sends a very strong message to any would-be individual who would threaten a mosque or take an action that would result in an individual’s constitutional rights being violated,” United States Attorney Jerry Martin said Thursday afternoon.

A federal grand jury indicted Javier A. Correa, 24, of Corpus Christi, Tex., accusing him of violating the civil rights of members of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro in connection with a long, threatening message he is said to have left on the center’s phone last September.

The Justice Department has been investigating threats and violence against the Islamic community in Murfreesboro, which is about a half-hour southeast of Nashville, for almost two years. Leaders of the congregation have been building a 12,000-square-foot mosque and community center, hoping to open it before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins at the end of July.

Since the project began, the site has been repeatedly vandalized, construction equipment has been set on fire and residents have tried to block the project in court. The F.B.I. and other federal agencies are investigating a 2010 fire as a possible hate crime.