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Posts Tagged ‘religious freedom’

One of the first posts I ever wrote for this blog dealt with the ban of the burqa and niqab by French authorities. It offended me that women were not allowed to choose their own dress and practice their faith as they wished. I had hoped at the time that France might relent and realize that instead of freeing women, they were instead oppressing them by taking away their right to choose. Yet, this past week, I suddenly found that this controversy had reignited after several French cities chose to ban the “burqini.” To clarify, the burqini is very different from a burqa. It doesn’t cover the face, for starters. Essentially, it is leggings and a long-sleeve shirt with an attached head-covering. It is worth noting that the burqini is not exclusively used by Muslims. In fact, the creator of the burqini said the new publicity has led to many more orders from non-Muslim women, especially survivors of skin cancer who need extra protection from the sun.

Already there have been numerous incidents of conflict. Multiple women have been ordered to leave beaches and fined as a result of wearing the swimwear. The most recent incident was a mother with her crying daughter who was forced to publically strip while three policemen stood over her with pepper spray. Numerous bystanders shouted at her and told her to go back where she came from; the woman in question comes from a family who has been citizens of France for at least three generations. Several of the women who have been forced to leave were in fact not wearing the burqini, but were stopped because they had covered their hair.

I’ve felt pain as I’ve read these stories. I myself choose my swimwear based on my religious beliefs; I refuse to wear bikinis of any kind or any swimwear that doesn’t cover my stomach or sides. This is what makes me most comfortable. I don’t choose my bathing suits or any other clothing because I am pressured to do so, but because these are what make sense for me. The thought of being forced to wear clothing that was too immodest for me is a horrible feeling. And this is a line that every woman should be able to decide for herself. For those of you who happily wear bikinis, as you should be able to, think of what it would be like if you went to a beach and were informed that you could only be on the beach topless or without any bathing suit at all. Additionally, there are plenty of women who prefer more modest swimwear simply because they prefer it, and it has absolutely nothing to do with their religious beliefs.

What’s most outrageous behind this religious discrimination is the logic that people are using to justify it. For instance, that it is a religious symbol that is linked to ISIS and therefore a threat to France. Grandmothers swimming with their families are really not trying to destroy your country. The conflation of the practice of Islam with ISIS is dangerous and offensive. Secondly, the assertion that this swimwear might be offensive to people of other religious beliefs or non-religious beliefs is ridiculous. In a free society, one religion isn’t supposed to have to accommodate the other; all are supposed to be able to practice freely. If an atheist asked me to cover up my cross so as not to offend them, I would probably look at them as if they had two heads.

Women in France deserve the right to make their own decisions and have full autonomy, and that includes the right to choose their own clothes and practice their own religion. To do otherwise is a manifestation of bigotry and of sexism. Any country that claims to take women’s rights seriously cannot do it by legislating their behavior and dress.

For more details: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3754395/Wealthy-Algerian-promises-pay-penalty-Muslim-woman-fined-France-wearing-burkini.html

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A few months ago it seemed I couldn’t go through my newsfeed without seeing a post about Kim Davis. Given the fact that I’m a college student and I live in New England, it should come as no surprise that almost all of the shares were very negative (I’m actually not sure if I saw a single positive one, but since I can’t remember all of them, I want to hedge my bets…).

 

The issue of religious freedom in the context of more right-wing causes has always been something I’ve tried to take seriously. I’ve struggled back and forth regarding whether a Catholic school should have to pay for insurance that provides birth control for their teachers.  I’ve felt strongly that ministers who are against gay marriage shouldn’t be required to marry a same-sex couple, just like I don’t think they should be required to marry a couple who are living together outside of marriage or basically really anyone, I think it’s the minister’s discretion.  A little part of me has even wondered about whether maybe someone does have a right to not make a wedding cake for a gay couple.  I mean, wouldn’t we support their right to not bake a cake that had a swastika on it?  I enjoy playing devil’s advocate.  I want to make sure that I’m not jumping one way or another because I disagree with a person.  There’s a difference between something being illegal and something just being wrong and obnoxious.  Religious freedom is something that does need to be protected, and we do have to be careful with the increasing secularization of our society.  However, too often many people overreact and take the fact that their religion is not the default as an attack.

 

Despite all of this, the case of Kim Davis is one that I don’t in any way find to be a gray area. She clearly either needs to issue the licenses or be removed from office.  Here is how I look at it.  Accommodations need to be given for religious freedom, and similarly, accommodations are also needed for disabilities.  I want to emphasize here that I’m not saying that religion and disability are the same, just that legally there are a lot of parallels in the case.  Those accommodations are all protected.  However, the key fact that decides whether or not an accommodation is reasonable is whether or not it affects the essential functions of the job.  As an example, say I take a job as a secretary.  I have neck problems.  If I can answer the phone, do the filing, set up appointments, work the computer, et cetera, that’s great.  If my boss asks me to move some file boxes down the hall, I have a right to explain that I have a disability and could someone else please move them for me.  That is a reasonable accommodation because moving a file box is not an essential function of the job.  However, if I took a job at a shipping company and my job was to unload and load crates, I couldn’t claim that I was unable to do that because of my neck issues, because carrying crates is an essential function of the job, it is the job, and if I can’t do that, I can’t do the job.  I think the same standard needs to apply to the religious freedom questions.

 

One of the first articles I wrote on this blog was in defense of a girl who had been fired from her job at Abercrombie because her hijab wasn’t part of the company dress code, even if she wore it in appropriate colors. That was unjust, because wearing a headscarf does not affect her ability to do her job as a salesperson.  Kim Davis held a job that, as one of its essential functions, required her to issue marriage licenses.  That was what the job was.  Either she has to perform the job or she needed to resign.  I’ve felt the same way about the so-called religious freedom clauses that allow magistrates or other workers to not perform ceremonies or file paperwork related to gay marriages.  Their job isn’t to pass judgment on who is getting married, it’s to do the process and allow the people to be on their way.  We don’t give clerks in divorce court an option to opt-out if they don’t agree why the person is getting divorced.  People need to do their jobs.  They are not obligated to be in those jobs if they feel uncomfortable, but the jobs have to get done.

 

Religious freedom is incredibly valuable in this country, and we owe it more than this.

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So, we’re going to have a lot to be talking about for the next several months on this blog.  We can thank our sponsors, the Presidential Candidates.  Next week we will discuss Ben Carson and the Monochromatic Pyramids/Grain Silos.

 

So, as you all know, last week our brothers and sisters in France, Lebanon, and Iraq were the victims of terrorist attacks.  In the wake of these deadly acts, particularly in response to the attacks in France, the question of the acceptance of refugees in the United States, specifically Syrian refugees, has been raised.  About half of our governors (including mine, sadly) and the majority of our presidential candidates have all been stoutly anti-refugee.  We will discuss this more in-depth another time, but right now I want to talk about Religious Freedom.

 

Conservative Christians have been up in arms the past several months (and years) about how their religious freedom is being infringed upon.  Now, I want to state that I do feel that Christians are facing increasing disrespect in a growing secular world, but that is not the same as having their constitutional rights taken away.  Common instances include being asked to sign a same-sex marriage license or being asked to serve someone who is gay in their store (because, you know, every store I walk into, the first thing that happens is someone comes up and asks me my sexual orientation).  However, what really has been striking me the past several days has been the hypocrisy from some of these same Christians, especially our favorite Presidential Candidates.

 

Donald Trump recently said that he believed the United States needed to close down many mosques.  Now, aside from the purely selfish reasons for being horrified–everyone should remember that once they can shut down any religious institution, they can shut down yours too, your rights are tied to the rights of other citizens—this goes against all of the values that this country has always held dear.  I wish that I could tell you we have always been a welcoming place for religious minorities.  We both know that it hasn’t been.  Religious minorities have been exposed to disrespect, mockery, discrimination, and, sometimes, hate crimes.  However, we have seen the right to worship as sacred.  Look down on people who are different from us all we want, we have mostly, as a country, recognized that, whether or not we believe that Jesus is the true Messiah and our Lord and Savior, we cannot shut down a synagogue because a) it would be really wrong and b) because it would be illegal, and this has motivated us even when a) hasn’t.

 

George Washington wrote a famous letter to a synagogue in Rhode Island in 1790, assuring them that “it is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”  How sad Washington would be if he saw people assisting in persecution and sanctioning bigotry on the basis of religious beliefs.

 

Multiple candidates have endorsed both having a religious test for refugees (an “Only Christians Allowed” sign is probably going to be voted to be added to the Statue of Liberty any day now…).  Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush both support this push.  Again, this is unconstitutional, there should never be a religious litmus test to be a citizen.  Candidates have also said that if elected they would create a national database of all Muslims in the country so they could be tracked (yes, aside from the horrifying dangers of this, it is also ironic that the “small government” people want a national database to track people).  Several said they would not rule out requiring Muslims to carry ID cards stating their religion.  And that would be when many of us liberals, already speechless with outrage and horror at all these suggestions, effectively lost it.  We know that ID cards with race or religion on them have led not only to discrimination, but to genocide.  Hitler famously required all Jews to wear a yellow star on their clothes to mark them as Jews for everyone to see.  Right before the Rwandan genocide, the government began issuing ID cards stating which ethnic group each individual belonged to.

 

And last, because all of this wasn’t bad enough a mayor of a Virginia town felt comfortable enough in this climate to suggest that we create internment camps for Muslims the same way we did for the Japanese.  No, just no.  If I have ever been tempted to use profanity on this blog, it has been in this post.  First of all, almost everyone agrees that the internment camps were completely wrong and ended up locking up thousands of loyal citizens on the basis of race.  Multiple presidents have apologized (including the Sainted Reagan, and it’s not easy to get presidents to apologize), and it was later deemed unconstitutional.  On the country’s mental list of awful things we have done, it usually goes 1) slavery 2) everything we did to Native Americans 3) Japanese internment camps.  I mean, what sane person thinks that this is not only a viable idea, but that this crazy idea should ever leave their head and be introduced into public dialogue?  Millennia of recorded history and we haven’t learned that any idea involving internment camps (aside from, you know, prisons for murderers) is an absolutely, horribly wrong, morally bankrupt idea that should never be suggested because it is always, always wrong.

 

Now, I could keep going.  I could talk about how Ben Carson thinks a Muslim shouldn’t be allowed to be president and how he clearly just has no idea what sharia actually is.  I could talk about the hate crimes that have occurred against Muslims since the Paris attacks.  I could talk about Kasich, who I had thought was the sane adult in the Republican race, apparently thinks we should have a national agency devoted to spreading “Judeo-Christian values” to the Muslim world (because again, it’s not like there are any constitutional problems with that idea).  I could talk about a lot more and I probably will in other posts, but for now, I think I just have to call this particular one to an end, take a deep breath, and tell George Washington that I’m sorry that we haven’t been able to be the country he thought we could be.

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While it’s quite easy to dismiss the Religious Right’s paranoia about the erosion of the freedom of religion, every once in awhile there are those reminders of how fragile the rights we take for granted can be. 

A case is moving itself up through the British judiciary involving two women (from different employers) who were ordered to remove (or in one case cover) the crosses around their neck while at work.  When both women refused they endured consequences, one was placed on unpaid leave and the other was removed from their usual rounds.  The British Government has chosen to defend the employers’ rights to ban crosses in the workplace, even more startling is the coalition of Christian ministers who have rallied around them.  Their arguments for why banning crosses is not an infringement on freedom of religion?  Wearing a cross is not “required” by the Christian faith. 

As any religious person knows, the line of what is a “requirement” is a very thin, gray line…and a line that everyone draws in different places.  Some people find daily prayers requirements, some don’t.  Some find headscarves requirements, some don’t.  Some people think using matza crumbs instead of bread crumbs in baked clams is kosher, some don’t.  Some think church every week is a requirement, some don’t.  The point though is not whether the cross is a requirement, but the shocking turn that suddenly we have gone from the freedom to practice our religious beliefs (whatever they might be) to the freedom to only do the bare requirements. 

The article in question reads like this: “1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community wiht others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance. 2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”  For me…that reads pretty clearly that banning a cross is a violation.  As a Christian, I can vouch that wearing my cross is a manifestation of my faith.  It is not a requirement, nor do I think it a talisman or a good-luck charm.  My cross is my personal reminder that I am a Christian and that I should act in a way that honors that commitment and it is also my reminder that I represent Christianity, and in an age where I say “Christian” and you think Rick Santorum, I take that seriously.  Banning a cross is hardly necessary for the sake of “public safety, the protection of public order, [or] health” and wearing a cross does not infringe on someone else’s freedoms.  Banning it, however, does.

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Where do I start?  Where do I start?  It’s difficult for me to determine where I should begin to explain all the things that I find horrifying about this video… 

Let me start here.  I’m not ashamed to say I’m a Christian either.  Let me say this first: Rick Perry does not speak for all Christians. 

Guess we’ll work chronologically.

“You don’t need to be in the Pew every Sunday to know that there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military”

First of all, everyone who is capable and has a desire to serve our country in the armed forces should be welcomed as they are.  Men, women, homosexuals, heterosexuals, Caucasion, African-American, Asian, Christian, Buddhist, or Muslim, this is a country where all are welcome, and our military should reflect that.  There is no reason why people who are gay should be prohibited from serving in the military forces.  In the American Revolution or the Civil War, women dressed as men to try to serve their country, they had to hide who they were as well.  Now, women are valued members of the services, sometimes even being able to accomplish tasks that men are not, such as speaking with local women to gather information.  And really, gays being allowed to serve in the military, that’s really the worst thing you can think of that’s wrong with this country?  What about the fact that gay teens are feel forced to commit suicide because of excessive amounts of bullying because of their sexual orientation?  Don’t you think that’s much more concerning in what it says about America and our values?

“but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school”

First of all, I’m a devout Christian, I’ve grown up celebrating Christmas, and I know no one who has had to hide the fact that they celebrated Christmas.  In fact, I’m a Christian and I sometimes wish people didn’t so openly celebrate Christmas.  I also have attended both Christian and public school.  I have lived in both worlds.  I miss having prayers in class, I’ll admit it, they can be a nice way for people to come together.  But I was in a Christian school.  It has never crossed my mind that it would be appropriate in a public school.  Aside from the fact that not everyone’s Christian, not everyone’s religious.  There are Creaster people (people who only go to church on Christmas and Easter, or in Jewish equivalents, only on High Holidays) and then there are outright atheists and agnostics.  Having organized prayer in school just isn’t appropriate in public school, the place for that is home, church, (or your equivalent) and within a group of people who have agreed that they are comfortable with something like that.  Besides, I pray in school all the time, but it’s between me and God, and that’s something that no one can legislate away from me.  I don’t know why we think that it has to be in an organized setting to be real.  Whatever personal feelings are, we are a nation that does not institutionalize religion, and that means that in our public institutions, organized prayer does not have its place. 

“as President, I’ll end Obama’s war on religion”

Okay, if you’re going to be making an ad that thousands of people are going to see, get your facts right.  Things you’re discussing, such as what is acceptable in terms of school prayer or in public Christmas displays, those decisions weren’t made by Obama, they were made by the supreme court.  There’s no war on religion, at least not from the government, that there’s a culture that’s turning more hostile to religion in general, I’ll give you that, but I don’t think government’s how you fix that.

“and I’ll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage”

Okay, as any of you can see if from the title of this blog, much of what this blog is about is the mistaken belief among many in our country (a disproportionate amount of them being in politics) that religion and politics go hand in hand.  Conservative=Religious (i.e. Christian), Liberal=Secular (i.e. evil…just kidding, sort of).  Things aren’t this clear-cut.  I’m a liberal and I’m an evangelical Christian.  There are religious liberals, there are secular conservatives.  There are conservatives and liberals who are both religious but believe the first amendment means that we shouldn’t insitutionalize religion.  I don’t like it when liberal is used to mean secular.  I don’t like it when conservative is used to mean Christian.  Things are much more complex than this.

All in all, I was rather horrified by Rick Perry’s ad, even more horrified when the only real outcries I heard were on social networking sites and not by any in the media.  Religion isn’t an us-them thing, there are no teams.  I found Rick Perry’s ad concerning and more than that, I found it sad that he actually thought that the majority of Americans held the same views.

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Now, I first want to say, that I am going to add in those next two parts on religious literacy, however, I came across this and felt that it was important and wanted to share.

I am one of the many people who continues to be concerned over dialogue in the political arena that seems to foster anti-Islamic sentiment or to reinforce people’s narrow views of the religion.  I’ve at times noticed similarities between the preoccupation with many on the right with the supposed threat of Islam to our country and national identity and with the red scare of the mid-twentieth century, including senate hearings.  Another parallel is politicians use of specific words to incite fear or prejudice, trying to appeal to the concerns of a number of Americans.  One of these code words that has appeared is the sudden obsession with sharia law and the so-called danger that it poses to our country.  I found this article by Amy Sullivan of the Huffington Post entitled “The Myth of Sharia Law in America” and thought that it was excellent and certainly worth sharing and discussing.

Link to the article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amy-sullivan/sharia-myth-america_b_876965.html

Sullivan starts out with the phrase “if you are not vitally concerned about the possibility of Muslims infiltrating the U.S. government and establishing a Taliban-style theocracy, then you are not a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination”.  Part of this is people’s idea of the concept of ‘creeping sharia’, that sharia law will slowly come into our laws and culture without us noticing it and in the process take away our American values, freedoms, and identity.  Sullivan goes onto some of the examples of Republican presidential candidates who have started speaking out against Sharia.  Rick Santorum referred to sharia as a “threat” to the country.  However, this is nothing compared to some of the concrete suggestions at combating sharia law that have been discussed by Republican candidates that Sullivan quoted.

Presidential candidate Herman Cain stated that he “would not appoint a Muslim to a Cabinet position or judgeship because ‘there is this attempt to gradually ease sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government.  It does not belong in our government.’”  I first want to state that what Herman Cain is suggesting, keeping people out of government posts because of their faith, is illegal and it is stated in the constitution that “all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States” (article VI, paragraph III).  It is worth noting that Herman Cain also believes that it should be legal for towns to refuse to accommodate mosques being built if the majority of the population opposes them.  However, by that logic a town could refuse to accommodate any minority religion’s house of worship, for instance a town that was predominantly Catholic, as my own town is, could choose that the Episcopalian, Unitarian, Methodist, Baptist, and Congregationalist churches in the town, along with the Jewish synagogue, could also be banned.  I hadn’t realized that in our country that rights of the minorities were dependent on the whims of the majorities.  Herman Cain continues to be an outspoken critic of sharia law and Islam, saying that “our constitution guarantees the separation of church and state.  Islam combines church and state” as his argument for why Islam is entirely antithetical to America.  The major flaw in his argument is that, as anyone who has read the Old Testament or the Jewish Torah is well aware, Christianity and Judaism both have strong roots in the combination of church and state.  There are laws and regulations in the early books of the Bible on many of the same subjects as sharia such as prayer, contracts, interest, dietary needs, crimes, and welfare.  Christianity and Judaism’s holy texts combine church and state just as much as Islam.  Cain doesn’t seem to realize this however, reasserting: “Islam is both a religion and a set of laws—sharia laws.  That’s the difference between any one of our traditional religions where it’s just about religious purposes.”  Christianity has, plenty of times in the past, instituted governments where there was no separation between church and state, many of these governments existed very recently as well, even now national churches exist in many European country.  The separation between church and state was a new and radical idea at the inception of our nationhood, it is not a religion itself that opposes or affirms the separation between church and state, but how the people of that religion choose to carry out their faith.

Sullivan also cites Newt Gingrich, current presidential candidate and former speaker of the house, who has been calling for a federal law stating that sharia cannot be used in any court case.  The issue is actually a familiar one and has not been confined to sharia.  Many people in the past have said that judges should not be able to use international precedents (as in, decisions or laws from another country) as justifications in American court decisions or sentencing.  The logic behind this is valid.  However, singling out sharia as a threat isn’t quite as valid.  Sullivan addressed the issue of when and where sharia is used in United States courts, describing how examples where sharia might be brought in is when the two litigants are Muslim who would like a Muslim arbiter to settle issues around marriage contracts or business deals in compliance with sharia, or in executing an Islamic will.  Sullivan points out: “They are no different than the practice of judges allowing Orthodox Jews to resolve some matters in Jewish courts, also known as beth din.”  The other times that sharia is brought up is when courts hear cases where the litigants are from different countries, or deals or custody arrangements were made in other countries under different laws, in this case sharia is brought in as the foreign law, it should also be noted that Catholic canon law is permitted in such cases as well, as Sullivan pointed out.  A large number of states in the past two years have debated or passed laws to ban the use of sharia in courts.

However, it actually wasn’t Newt Gingrich’s attack on sharia’s use in court cases that I had a problem with, it was his assertion that supreme court justices and other judges who oppose that idea should be removed.  The judicial system is critical to our fundamental system of checks and balances.  Our judges are meant to augment our legal system and to provide a check on the legislative and executive branches; if we start removing judges based on what decisions they make, not only do we undermine the job they’re meant to be doing, but then we might not get the same opinions, judges might change their verdicts based on which political party is in power out of fear of losing their jobs.  They can no longer contribute to the system in the same way.  When the supreme court handed down their decision in the case of Brown versus the Board of Education, President Eisenhower was in office.  President Eisenhower was a segregationist, but the courts said that schools had to be integrated.  Though Eisenhower didn’t agree with the court’s decision, he knew that as president it was his job to carry out the court’s decisions no matter what.  The courts and judges need to be able to come to their own conclusions about cases and laws, no matter what those conclusions may be, and threatening the very judicial system’s principles that our nation relies on not only undermines that system but fundamentally threatens it.

Sullivan continued her article by defining sharia, noting that although it has become a word in many sound bytes, few people actually understand what sharia is.  Later in the article she quoted the example of a state senator from Alabama, Gerald Allen, who was sponsoring a bill banning sharia, but when asked to define it by a reporter could not actually say what sharia was.  In her explanation of sharia, Sullivan says: “More than a specific set of laws, sharia is a process through which Muslim scholars and jurists determine God’s will and moral guidance as they apply to every aspect of a Muslim’s life.  They study the Quran, as well as the conduct and sayings of the Prophet Mohammed, and sometimes try to arrive at consensus about Islamic law.  But different jurists can arrive at very different interpretations of sharia, and it has changed over the centuries.”  I think one of the closest parallels to sharia, as so defined, would be the Talmud, a text in Judaism of discussions by rabbis over Jewish laws, ethics, and traditional customs, among many others.  I also will admit that I smiled a bit at the last part of the quotation.  In my daily listening to the news and in the research for this article I’ve heard a number of the candidates expounding on how Islam is different from what we think (though I’m not exactly sure who “we” is supposed to be and I wish they would all stop using pronouns like “us” and “they”) and Muslims are therefore fundamentally different from the rest of us.  However, that last part of the quotation sounds exactly like Christianity or Judaism or any of the other major religions.  We all interpret God’s will for us, the Bible, and Jesus’ teachings in very different way.  We come to different conclusions about what the text says or what God means every day and what we believe has evolved greatly over two millennia since Jesus first spoke his teachings.  I think if someone said that all Christians believe _________, if it wasn’t something like “in God”, I think most of us would realize pretty quickly that all Christians don’t agree with whatever it was.  Christians disagree amongst themselves on basically everything, from marriage to gender roles to morality to government to economics to hell to the Bible to church.  The idea that you could say that all Christians think alike or believe in the same things is absurd.  I think the idea that all Muslims think alike or believe in all the same things is equally absurd.  You can’t lump people of all the same religion into one box.  It seems to me that much of sharia is just the process through which through study and faith, many Muslims try to find the best way to live out what they see to be God’s will, the same as any of us.

Sullivan noted at the end that “unlike the U. S. Constitution or the Ten Commandments, there is no one document that outlines universally agreed upon sharia” (though it is worth noting that different faiths use different versions of the ten commandments as well) and began to answer the question of how some Muslim countries use sharia in their legal systems.  While Sullivan acknowledges the extreme scenarios, such as the Taliban ruling Afghanistan using sharia, most countries sharia usually makes up the laws around contracts.  In other countries, where the government is secular, Muslims still use sharia in their practices like prayer or diet.  Sullivan adds, “In general, to say that a person follows sharia is to say that she is a practicing Muslim.”

Lastly, Sullivan addressed many people’s fears about the “extreme punishments” in the sharia like stoning someone to death, beheading, et cetera.  She points out the very important fact that even though a judge can consider sharia in their decisions, sharia cannot override our laws or constitution.  Sharia cannot be used in a way that contradicts the laws that we currently have and no one can force a judge to consider sharia.  Also, despite people’s horror about some of the punishments described in sharia, people have to remember that things that many of us would describe as equally inhumane are proscribed in our Bible.  Stoning is named as a punishment in the Bible.  Yet, in our country’s long history with a Christian majority in the population, I don’t recall stoning ever being chosen as a punishment by a judge, certainly not within the last century.  The fact that the Bible named it did not mean that judges rushed to use it in their decisions and I find it equally unlikely that something different will happen with sharia.

Sullivan questions why sharia has become such a concern for many Americans and such a force in our national debate and elections.  She points out that many people either believe that such laws against sharia are necessary to preempt sharia’s invasion of our laws or, “assert that all Muslims are bound to work to establish an Islamic state in the U. S.”.  Aside from the fact that there is no evidence of that, I don’t see why if people are afraid of something like that why they’re not more worried about the many public figures who continue to call out that our nation is a “Christian nation” and that we must preserve its status as such.  Personally, though hypocrisy among politicians is nothing new, I still have to say that I wish we could expect better of our presidential candidates.  The Republicans are running on the core value that we need to restore America’s focus on the document of the constitution, while many of them are not only threatening the first amendment’s protection of people to be able to practice their religion freely but are also disregarding laws about religious discrimination in public offices and the checks and balance system of the three branches that was at the very core of the constitution.  Sullivan seems to think it is more likely (and I agree) that instead of Muslims slowly working together to impose their religion upon us “that politicians who cry ‘Sharia!’ are engaging in one of the oldest and least-proud political traditions—xenophobic demagoguery.”  She says that one of the easiest ways to tell “is when politicians carelessly throw around a word simply because it scares some voters.”  A sad example of the many ways that politicians like to use emotionally charged words to incite people to make emotional decisions motivated by fear rather than reason.  Sullivan finishes her article strong, stating: “The anti-communist Red Scare of the 1950s made broad use of guilt by innuendo and warnings about shadowy conspiracies.  If GOP candidates insist they are not doing the same thing to ordinary Muslims, they can prove it by explaining what they believe sharia is and whether they’re prepared to ban the consideration of all religious codes from civil arbitration.  Anything less is simply fear mongering.”

Now, for my final word, I’d like to say why any of us who are not Muslim should be actively involved in fighting against any attempts to limit Muslim’s religious freedom.  It might be easy to not be too concerned, since either way, we could argue, it doesn’t affect us.  However, there is first the danger that the erosion of the religious civil liberties of any one group threatens the religious civil liberties of us all, and we might very well find ourselves in the same place later down the line, one never knows.  There’s also the simple fact that it’s wrong, and as the Bible extolls us to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” this should mean that we are vitally concerned with the treatment of other people.  Lastly, I think history has shown, that while those who led charges against discrimination against a people are always villified, it is really the people who stood by and let it happen that history lays the most blame at the feet of.

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