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Robert P. Jones: The State of Anti-Sharia Bills

Bad news for the hate brigades? It looks like ¬†the ever shifting poll numbers are indicating that the anti-Sharia’ drive is no longer as popular with Americans now that it impedes upon the free exercise of religion by Jewish and Christian groups and also makes life difficult for business leaders:

The state of anti-sharia bills

by Robert P. Jones (WaPoBlog)

Earlier this month, before the furor over several proposed abortion bills threw Virginia into the national spotlight, another controversial bill began moving in the House of Delegates.

House Bill 825 proposes to ban the use of any legal code established outside the United States in U.S. courtrooms. While it is largely understood that the primary target of the legislation was sharia, or Islamic law, the expansive bill has drawn unexpected criticism from other groups that are concerned that, as written, it could easily be interpreted to ban the use of halacha, Jewish law, and other Catholic canon laws. Muslim advocates had already condemned the bill, as they’ve done with the dozens of state-level bills that have explicitly or implicitly targeted Islamic law. But Jewish groups were also speaking out, saying that the law could limit their ability to settle family matters like wills and divorces according to their religious guidelines. Catholic officials also voiced concerns that bills like these could prevent the Roman Catholic Church (based in Italy) from owning parish buildings and schools. Business leaders also added their voices to the clamor against the bill, citing concerns that it could hurt international business relations. Deciding to reevaluate their approach, the bill’s proponents sent the bill back to committee.

Virginia is just one of two dozen states with bans on foreign laws moving in their legislature. Last week, a similar bill made its way out of Florida’s House Judiciary Committee, amid protests from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Florida Bar’s Family Association, and the ACLU. A third measure preventing the use of foreign law in U.S. courtrooms headed toward a vote in the Georgia House of Representatives.

But as the debate in Virginia shows, the tide could be changing. Lawmakers have had to revamp their approach since an Appeals court struck down Oklahoma’s earlier version as discriminatory for specifically mentioning sharia law. In order to pass constitutional muster, the new bills are written with broad-strokes prohibitions, which have had the unintended effect of drawing other religious groups and business interests into the fray.

Public opinion is also shifting. While these legal challenges evolved, Americans‚Äô concerns about the threat that sharia law‚Äôs threat to the American legal system have fluctuated considerably, largely in response to public events that captured national attention. A year ago, when Rep. Peter King‚Äôs congressional hearings on alleged radicalization among American Muslims,¬†23 percent of Americans agreed that American Muslims want to establish sharia as the law of the land in the U.S.¬†Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) disagreed, while 13 percent said they did not know. In September 2011, near the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and amidst debates around the Park 51 Community Center and Mosque in Manhattan, which opponents dubbed the ‚Äúground-zero mosque,‚ÄĚ this number rose to nearly one-third (30 percent) of the general population. Over¬†six-in-10 (61 percent) disagreed, while 8 percent said they did not know.

Over the few months, though, these issues have had a much lower media profile. And in the absence of prominent national stimuli, concerns about the threat of sharia have dropped by more than half since September. PRRI’s February 2012 Religion and Politics Tracking Survey showed only 14 percent of Americans agree that American Muslims want to establish sharia or Islamic law as law of the land. More than two-thirds (68 percent) disagree, and nearly 1-in-5 (17 percent) say they do not know.

These two trends suggest that, despite early momentum, the sponsors of anti-sharia legislation may have an uphill battle ahead of them. By widening the bills’ scope to include all laws that originate outside the U.S., sponsors of anti-sharia legislation are wading more deeply into the waters of religious liberty. Given that 88 percent of Americans agree that the U.S. was founded on the idea of religious freedom for everyone, including religious groups that are unpopular, fighting these legislative battles openly on religious liberty terrain may be difficult. It certainly won’t help that the current bills are being considered at a time when Americans’ concerns about the threat of sharia law have ebbed.

By   |  03:55 PM ET, 02/29/2012

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  • Alexis

    I will agree that probably a tmojriay of Muslims living here in the United States are ordinary Americans, or moderate Muslims. But I would also contend that many of the moderate Muslims don’t adhere to Sharia law or substantial portions of the law. But, I think you are underestimating the threat that radical Islam poses to the United States, and the number of Muslims who either support violence silently, promote violence, or are engaged in violence is far more prevalent than you would have me believe. Do you believe that there are any mosques within the US that support violence? Some people can be blinded to reality and I believe you are an example of another sheep falling for wolves in sheep’s clothing. But, do prove me wrong. So, your going to wimp out because you can’t prove me wrong? Prove my beliefs about Islam wrong and provide facts that counter some of Pamela Geller’s articles wrong. Send a peaceful Muslim my way Pittsburgh Pa Do you have connections? If you want me to believe you and want me to believe that most Muslims are peaceful then please do at least send me in the right direction. .

  • Hassan

    It’s false to say that Muslims don’t want Shari’a law. Shari’a is nothing more than figuring out what God wants us to do, based on his texts, prophetic tradition, and public good. Naturally, this general notion of “what would God want” affects us personally on a religious individual basis, and when we had kingdoms and empires in the past, it’s only natural that our scholars submitted laws to our kings for approval based on “what would God want”.

    That means that in our rituals and our contracts, a religious Muslim would follow Shari’a. Despite what some people say, we would ALSO ideally want a government Shari’a, but therein lies the problem: Shari’a is based on human interpretation, and in this age of scholarly collapse, that’s strongly colored by cultural biases. Shari’a isn’t one law. Bringing up medieval Shari’a books is irrelevant, because there’s always another book written by another scholar who has different opinions on issues of public good, the economy, politics, etc.

    In that sense, the only difference between Shari’a and any other law is that Shari’a is based on a religious text, whereas other laws are based on culture *only*. Flipping out over basing law on religious principles because there are laws you don’t like, is like flipping out over the concept of American law, because there are laws in America one doesn’t like.

    If there were a Muslim country in the world that implemented Shari’a appropriately, I’d be happy to live there. We have nothing against living with Shari’a per se. The problem is that Islamic scholarhood and authority collapsed in the last 200 years, and people in failed states latch onto the idea of “shari’a” just as they did communism, without knowing how it works.

  • atm

    the map may be misleading since the category “State Level:With other systems” may have been used too loosely.

    for example in Lebanon, the only case were sharia is considered is with the marriage of two muslims who consent to be subject to that law. All other instances are governed by civil law based on French law

  • Steve
  • Ilisha


    I’m on the road and can’t give this proper attention. I researched it sometime back, and most have mixed systems. Turkey has a completely secular system based on Swiss Law. Indonesia inherited Dutch Law, Jordan and Syria, French Law and so on.

    Tribal, customary, and Sharia are often mixed in. Few even claim pure Sharia.

  • Believing Atheist

    Completely secular Muslim countries are a minority in the Islamic world.

    ‚ÄúSecular Muslim countries are a minority, however, and the popularity of Islamist political parties are narrowing the gap between religion and state.‚ÄĚ

    To get a better understanding of Sharia and politics/law in the Muslim world read the entire article I linked.

    Now is Sharia all bad? No, Harvard Professor, Noah Feldman doesn’t think so. He says:

    “For many Muslims today, living in corrupt autocracies, the call for [sharia] is not a call for sexism, obscurantism or savage punishment but for an Islamic version of what the West considers its most prized principle of political justice: the rule of law,” Feldman argues. (same source).

  • Steve

    I think there are few more than that.

  • Ilisha

    Iran, Saudi Arabia, and previously, the Taliban in Afghanistan. Maybe Maldives.

    Pakistan and Afghanistan inherited British Law, so they’re mixed.

  • Steve

    Which couple of countries?

  • Ilisha


    Only a couple Islamic countries have legal systems based mainly on Sharia.

    Also, this may interest you:

  • Steve

    khushboo, nobody? Why is sharia being implemented in many countries yet nobody in the USA wants it as the basis of law?

  • khushboo

    Steve, all Muslims go with sharia ruling mentioned in the Quran but no one cares to make it a law.

  • Garibaldi

    @BA, it is a contradiction. Spencer once again cites the discredited “mapping sharia survey” which was led by the loon David Gaubatz.

  • Steve

    Don’t muslims want to live under sharia? Is it a case of god is cool but his laws aren’t?

  • Reynardine

    Since I live in this vale of tears, I think we’d be better off if the state were split, and Tallahassee became the capital of the glorious state of Panhandle, of which these legislators, along with the illustrious Governor, would become honorary citizens, whether they liked it or not. Peninsula could then elect more enlightened folk and govern ourselves with a constitution that allows for recall.

  • Hassan

    I’m pretty sure it’s going to pass in Florida, because our senate is utterly incompetent and corrupt. I was in the room when the latest senate panel passed it, and it’s expected to sail through the final panel (budget) as well. I’ll paste my experience below:

    ‚Äé50 of us lined the walls of a small senate chamber, submitting 50 requests to speak against the Anti-Sharia bill.

    First, the senators showed up around hour and a half late, which weeded out those of us who couldn’t stand for that long. When they finally got in, the Chairwoman decided they would leave the sharia bill for last because it was “controversial”. She assured us she’d take only about 5 minutes for each of the other bills.

    What followed was a ludicrous 100 minutes of stalling, senators asking for clarification over and over before rubber-stamping each bill, with one guy jumping up to argue against EVERY bill, asking “What’s this gonna cost? Where’s the price tag?” It turns out there were twenty of these bills.

    Apparently they can’t discuss or vote on a bill until the sponsor shows up to present it. Finally, after playing the same game as the other senators, the senate sponsor (metz) showed up over 2 hours late, 2 minutes before they had to close session. (HAD to, apparently, because God forbid government stooges work an extra 15 minutes once in their lives.)

    So this guy finally shows up and introduces the bill, and we’re ready for a few of us to speak and debate the issue. The Chairwoman giggles and starts reading our names off our speaking requests, apologizing for mispronouncing. Some of us stand up, expecting to briefly voice our thoughts. Instead, she continues to read about 20 names off.

    There was no time to mention that the author of the bill thinks Blacks are a “murderous race” or that liberal Jews are “parasites” who destroy “their host nations”. There was no time to explain the risks of giving a victory to a universally loathed hate-group, threatening religious contracts, or unjustly limiting the judicial discretion.

    Someone motions to vote, and the chairwoman has a few senators’ names read aloud. All but two say “yes”, and the bill is passed.

    I didn’t even know it happened, because she said something about another committee, so for at least five minutes into the chaos I thought they had passed a motion to postpone it to another meeting. After all, with absolutely no time for discussion, that’s what you might expect. I wandered a bit, making confused sounds, asking people what had just happened. Then it became a touch clearer.

    “Are you really going to disenfranchise everyone who came here today to speak to you?” one of the Muslim leaders calls out. “Hey, that’s a raw deal” understates another with bizarrely polite firmness. “Criminals. Criminals” someone is saying. And then all the Muslims get up and move to the semicircular senate table, ready to argue their case when it’s too late. All but 3 senators hurry out the door.

    Before he leaves, one saggy-faced old senator with a large potato nose leans over a heavily made-up Republican senator and says “You really gonna hang around here talking to these people?” “Yes” she replies, with zealous bright blue eyes.

    She’s eager to explain why this whole charade was business as usual; why putting off a controversial bill after being over an hour late, hearing 20 bills for five minutes each, and the sponsor senator showing up JUST in the nick of time to present it, wasn’t at all planned. She didn’t try explaining why “controversial” apparently means “Pass it without discussion.”

    She heard multiple speakers on the issue of pit bull ownership and shoplifting. Bills she didn’t consider controversial. But controversy? She was courteous enough to acknowledge our little paper slips before shooting us down without hesitation.

    She even has the gall to give a former political candidate in Florida a brief social studies lesson, explaining why, as a Republican, she wants to legislate people’s religious marriages. See, SHE didn’t hide behind the argument that there was no ulterior motive, that a bill written by someone who wants to outlaw Islam wouldn’t harm Islamic contracts at all. Instead, she felt it WAS limiting religious freedom, but didn’t care. She ended up using women the way republicans always do: as a blunt instrument for bigotry.

    She argued that, since some women may be pressured by male relatives or communities into using religious contracts, NOBODY should have their religious contracts recognized, even if they consent. She treats her fellow women like pawns, like brainless damsels to be saved through some form of patriotic violence. This time, the violence is eliminating a right minorities enjoy, out of an assumption that scary minority men abuse it more often than not. She wanted to “protect” women by eliminating their choice to have religious contracts people enjoy in other states.

    We brought up the ADL, how the most powerful Jewish civil rights group opposes this bill. She held up her hands and rolled her eyes. “That’s not gonna help you. I’m republican and they’re left-wing, all these, ACLU, other kinda left-wing groups. Don’t bring them up.”

    Another senator sat with Ahmed Bedier and expressed his ignorance on the bill. First of all, he doesn’t care what the motives of the author are, considering “the constitution was written by racist slave owners”. Presumably, he would pass a bill against minorities written by a racist slave owner today. Kind of a strange moral compass this guy has. Maybe I could get a few sex slave traffickers to write up a couple human trafficking bills for him sometime.

    Anyway, he totally supports the power of the judiciary. Doesn’t want to limit a judge’s power at all. It took about ten minutes to explain that FORBIDDING a judge from considering “foreign law” was a LIMITATION on the judge. Now he agrees with us (presumably). Too late.

    SO anyway, what a fiasco that was. There’s one more committee, the budget committee, before this becomes a law. But we’re not going to be up there en masse for the budget committee vote. We won’t have the numbers; probably won’t have great speakers.

  • AgnosticAtheist

    It is a shame that these bills only really start to face hardship when they start to infringe on religions other than Islam- and protests by Muslim groups fail to invoke positive change.

    I think Sharia, just like Halacha and Catholic law, should be allowed.

  • Christian-friend

    as long as religious laws (of any kind) does not make the government a theocary is aces for me. I think Sharia and Halacha should be consulted depending on the circumstances.

  • Al

    Oh noes!!! teh Sharia creeps!!!

  • Believing Atheist

    Robert Spencer may have lied about Mosques in America. Spencer claims today:

    And meanwhile: “A random survey of 100 representative mosques in the U.S. was conducted to measure the correlation between Sharia adherence and dogma calling for violence against non-believers. Of the 100 mosques surveyed, 51% had texts on site rated as severely advocating violence; 30% had texts rated as moderately advocating violence; and 19% had no violent texts at all. Mosques that presented as Sharia adherent were more likely to feature violence-positive texts on site than were their non-Sharia-adherent counterparts. In 84.5% of the mosques, the imam recommended studying violence-positive texts. The leadership at Sharia-adherent mosques was more likely to recommend that a worshiper study violence-positive texts than leadership at non-Sharia-adherent mosques. Fifty-eight percent of the mosques invited guest imams known to promote violent jihad. The leadership of mosques that featured violence-positive literature was more likely to invite guest imams who were known to promote violent jihad than was the leadership of mosques that did not feature violence-positive literature on mosque premises.”

    However, the Chicago Tribune claims (just yesterday):

    The vast majority of U.S. mosque leaders said Muslim youths are not becoming more radical because Islam is increasingly woven into American society, according to a survey by a multifaith coalition released on Wednesday.

    The Mosque Study 2011 survey shows that the number of U.S. mosques is growing fast and Muslims are more mainstream. This is despite a backlash after the militant attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, and suspicion about militant Islam, the authors of the study by and sponsors said.

    “The Muslim community in America is growing, vibrant, and becoming more and more a part of the American landscape,” Ihsan Bagby, one of the authors, told a news conference.

    “9/11 has not detracted, has not been an obstacle in the growth of the Muslim community.”

    The survey showed that 87 percent of the mosque leaders disagreed with the survey statement that “radicalism and extremism is increasing among Muslim youth — in their own experience.”

    Only 25 percent of leaders last year believed that American society was hostile to Islam. In 2000 54 percent agreed that U.S. Society was hostile to Islam.

    More than 98 percent of mosque leaders agreed that Muslims should be involved in American institutions, and 91 percent agreed that Muslims should be involved in politics.,0,2454741.story

    This seems like an apparent contradiction from Spencer’s claims.

  • NurAlia

    Another factor may be the debate in America on contreception. By the critics of contreception using religion and ‘moral conviction’ of the governmnet to regulate, restrict, or deny women making thier own decisions on family planning, the debate id bringing to light who is actually tring to ‘creep religion’ into law.

    When the issue was ‘abortion’ only, there was a debate of when a humanbeing is a ‘life’. Now that it is contreception being promoted as a form of ‘pre abortion’, women are understanding that the control over theier bodies is what the ‘creeping Christian syriah’ is.

    “…Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances…”

  • Just Stopping By

    @Christian-friend: Sharia and Halacha are the terms for Islamic and Jewish law, respectively. Each governs not only what we might think of as religious law such as how holidays are to be observed, but family law, such as rules for marriage, divorce, and bequests. There are also aspects of commercial law to each, describing how parties should treat each other in certain business dealings.

    To be clear, there is no real evidence that sharia is infecting US court decisions. The closest thing that objectors find are disputes that relate to business or marriage contracts that invoke sharia or halacha. US courts will generally enforce such contracts as long as they don’t have to interpret religious law and the result does no go against public policy. So, a private religious arbitration panel may decide how to deal with a business dispute in a case wehre the parties agreed in advance to religious arbitration; if the losing party refuses to do what the panel says, the winner in the arbitration may go to a US court to enforce the arbitration ruling. This is essentially the same thing that occurs in certain business contracts that use other arbitration panels.

  • Christian-friend

    can someone briefly explain to me about Sharia and Halacha?

  • CriticalDragon1177


    It will be a good idea for us to focus a lot of our efforts on that 17 percent that are not sure. It will be easier to convince them than the 14 percent that are convinced that most Muslims in the US want to replace the constitution with their interpretation of sharia. Still I’m really glad that most Americans haven’t fallen for the Islamophobic lies.

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