When you hear the words, “Sharia Law,” what immediately comes to mind? If you said an Islamic legal code that is incompatible with the laws of our nation and states, you would probably be in “good” company, at least in Oklahoma. Whether or not you would be 100% correct is debatable.
I must admit that when I hear “Sharia Law,” I do not have a positive dispostion toward this Islamic code. I suspect this is the case with many people, including many Southern Baptists. Our reticence in allowing Sharia Law to be used AT ALL in the United States may stem from its misuse in foreign lands, countries which simply lack the freedoms that we enjoy here in America. Our sensibilities — rightly so — are offended when we hear stories of what most Americans would consider cruel and unusual punishment.
To give you a general overview of Sharia Law, it can be divided into two main sections:
- The acts of worship, or al-ibadat, these include:
- Ritual Purification
- Pilgrimage to Mecca
- Human interaction, or al-mu’amalat, which includes:
- Financial transactions
- Laws of inheritance
- Marriage, divorce, and child care
- Foods and drinks (including ritual slaughtering and hunting)
- Penal punishments
- Warfare and peace
- Judicial matters (including witnesses and forms of evidence)
I will not spend much time on the first section — Acts of Worship. I would hope that most people, including Southern Baptists, would recognize and accept that Muslims have a First Amendment right to worship however they see fit. Even when we disagree with the tenets of Islam (or any other religion), we should at least be willing to recognize that Muslims have the same religious freedoms that Southern Baptists do in this country. We may not have to like what others believe or where they build mosques, but the moment we begin to limit others’ religious liberties (barring some clear violation of the law) is the moment when we walk away from not only our Baptist roots but our conservative values. And, it becomes the moment when we open ourselves up for our own religious liberties to be violated.
But, when we so dislike a religious minority that we begin passing laws which single this minority out for special approbation, then we are dangerously close to violating principles that we should hold dear. Oklahoma’s “Save Our State” amendment does just that. Placed on the ballot by the state legislature, 70% of Oklahoma voters approved the amendment on November 2, 2010.
What does Oklahoma need saving from? Apparently Sharia Law. What does the actual text of State Question 755, popularly known as the “Save Our State” amendment say:
The Courts provided for in subsection A of this section, when exercising their judicial authority, shall uphold and adhere to the law as provided in the United States Constitution, the Oklahoma Constitution, the United States Code, federal regulations promulgated pursuant thereto, established common law, the Oklahoma Statutes and rules promulgated pursuant thereto, and if necessary the law of another state of the United States provided the law of the other state does not include Sharia Law, in making judicial decisions. The courts shall not look to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures. Specifically, the courts shall not consider international law or Sharia Law. The provisions of this subsection shall apply to all cases before the respective courts including, but not limited to, cases of first impression.
From a legal standpoint, there are multiple problems with the way the amendment was written, not least of which it singles out Islamic Sharia Law as the only religious code that cannot be used in the Oklahoma judicial system. That explains at least one reason why a Federal Judge enjoined the law from going into effect. In beginning her November 29, 2011 opinion, Chief District Court Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange quoted from a U.S. Supreme Court case:
The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections. W. Va. State Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 638 (1943)
While no religious beliefs or tenets of faith — be they Muslim, Jewish, or Christian — should replace or otherwise conflict with the laws of the states and nation, why should Islamic law — and Islamic law only — be singled out by the Oklahoma legislature for complete and utter rejection within the legal system? If your answer to that is “Because it’s Islam and Muslims who are affected, not Christians,” then we maybe heading down a slippery slope — however well-intentioned — to a place with unintended consequences.
Are there parts of Sharia Law which are incompatible with the Constitutional framework of the United States and the 50 states? Yes. When Sharia conflicts with the laws of our nation or state, should we continue to use the laws of our nation and state to protect the rights and safety of our citizens? Absolutely. The laws of the state and nation should always trump Sharia Law (or any other religious laws that groups might live by in their private lives).
But, are we now saying that NO aspect of Sharia Law is compatible with the legal system that we have in place in this country? Are we willing to say that religious tenets of faith — in this case Sharia Law — simply cannot be used anywhere, anytime, anyplace, even if the specific religious principle does not conflict with the laws of the land? Before you answer those questions, do you also want to take that same approach with Christian religious principles integrated into contracts and what has come to be known as “Christian mediation?” Southwestern Seminary and Tarrant Baptist Association might have different answers to that question, but we must be consistent with how we view “religious law” as it relates to our legal jurisprudence. Apparently Dr. Richard Land, the President of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, also believes the voters of Oklahoma got it right when they exercised their “people power” in democratically rejecting Sharia Law.
Are we no longer willing to accommodate people’s religious preferences and beliefs within our jurisprudence, even when these preferences and beliefs do not conflict with our laws? It seems that we want our own religious beliefs accommodated, but with Islam, we are simply unwilling to grant them what the Constitution already does. Maybe we arrive at these views because we (in the sense of Christians) have been in the majority for so long. We do not see the need to accommodate others’ religious beliefs and practices because, with rare exceptions, we don’t need anyone to accommodate ours.
At least not yet. There may come a day when Southern Baptist Christians are singled out for special approbation by the government. That day maybe here sooner than we think. If we fail to stand up for the rights of religious minorities today — even those folks who we strenuously disagree with — can we really expect anyone to stand up for our rights when we come under attack?