On November 15, 2011 CAIR-Chicago’s Communications Coordinator Amina Sharif joined a panel discussion on the Constitutionality of legislation banning Sharia law which has been proposed in 25 states across the country. The event was hosted by the Muslim Law Students Association, Decalogue, National Lawyers Guild—Chicago Kent Chapter, the South Asian Law Students Association, and the American Constitution Society.
The panelists included a leading First Amendment scholar and professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law; Steven J. Heyman, professor of Constitutional Law at Chicago-Kent College of Law; Mark Rosen, and CAIR Chicago Communications Coordinator; Amina Sharif.
Sharif began the talk by explaining what Sharia law is. She then went to highlight some of the leaders propelling the anti-Sharia movement and the logistics behind their organizations including: David Yerushami, David Horowitz, Robert Spencer, and Pamela Geller, to name a few.
“Within a couple of years, these totally baseless rumors about Sharia have taken hold of national attention and legislation,” said Sharif. She also noted that some anti-Muslim pundits have made a lucrative business out of their propaganda machines.
Sharif went on to explain the work CAIR has done nationally to combat this hate-movement. CAIR has countered many proposals for anti-Sharia bills in several states through advocacy, reaching out to state legislators, and cooperating with the business community, which is opposed to such bills since they threaten international business contracts. CAIR-Oklahoma filed a discrimination suit against that state after it passed an anti-Sharia measure.
Heyman focused on Oklahoma’s legislation that banned Sharia in that state, criticizing what he considers an overly amplified and discriminatory movement that has no legal basis, but is merely a “a cultural and political conflict based on the idea that Islam fundamentally conflicts with the values of the Untied States.”
“From a legal standpoint, it’s an easy case,” said Heyman. “Many of them [leaders behind legislative proposals to ban Sharia law] try to say that America is a Christian nation or one that follows Judeo-Christian values… The necessary response has to be a political and cultural push for religious pluralism and a legislative separation of church and state,” said Heyman
Rosen drew analogies between Sharia law and Talmudic laws examining how the American legal system has had a history of accommodating minority religious communities with legislative provisions.
“It’s not a problem for courts to arrange agreements with co-religionists,” said Rosen. He provided examples of Jewish laws, including familial and inheritance practices, that have been upheld in American courts.
“The anti-Sharia movement comes from fear and bigotry,” Rosen noted.
“A lot of these representatives don’t understand Sharia law, its context, or the terminology related to it. They are ignorant on the subject and easily manipulated,” said Sharif. “CAIR-Chicago reached out to an Indiana legislator [Bruce Borders], who proposed a ban on Sharia law in that state. We explained to him what Sharia law really is, and he eventually withdrew the proposed anti-Sharia bill from the Indiana General Assembly.”