Local Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders gathered near the Tennessee Capitol on Tuesday to ask that an anti-Shariah law be withdrawn from consideration by the state legislature.
If passed, they fear, the law would make it illegal to be Muslim in Tennessee, although the bill’s supporters say specifically targets groups that support terrorism.
“All of a sudden, I pray using the Koran or the Sunnas of the Prophet, and it’s a crime,” said Imam Yusuf Abdullah of Masjid Al-Islam in Nashville. “What kind of bill is that?”
But Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, said Muslims have nothing to fear from the bill he introduced in the state Senate because it targets terrorism, not religion.
“There are different arms of Shariah, and the arm in my bill has nothing to do with their religious practices,” he told the Daily News Journal. “I am a strong constitutionalist, and I believe in the right to worship.”
The bill exempts the peaceful practice of Islam. But it also claims that Shariah law requires its followers to support overthrowing the U.S. and Tennessee constitutions and governments.
“The knowing adherence to sharia and to foreign sharia authorities constitutes a conspiracy to further the legal, political and military doctrine and system which embraces the law of jihad,” the law reads.
That raises concerns, said Jim Blumstein, a constitutional law scholar at Vanderbilt University. Laws can ban crimes, he said. But banning religious beliefs or practices is another matter.
“A law that is focused on anti-social conduct should be taken seriously and examined,” he said. “A law that equates religious exercise with anti-social conduct is very problematic.”
Gadeir Abbas, a staff attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, cited a section that labels all rulings from Shariah authorities as supporting violence. That section, he said, would make it illegal to be Muslim in Tennessee.
Abbas doesn’t believe the bill will become law. If it passes and Gov. Bill Haslam signs it, his group will take legal action.
”We sue the moment that he signs it,” Abbas said.
Laurie Cardoza-Moore, president of Proclaiming Justice to the Nations, a pro-Israel group, disagrees with the bill’s critics.
She said that it targets belief in Shariah only if it motivates a planned terrorist act.
She points to the case of Abdul Hakim Muhammad, a convert to Islam who tried to firebomb the house of a Nashville rabbi in 2009. Muhammad later killed an Army recruiter in Little Rock. He claimed his actions were inspired by Islam.
“We don’t want to encourage that kind of teaching,” she said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee condemned the proposed bill on Tuesday. It would allow the state attorney general — whom the bill requires to identify criminal supporters of Shariah — to profile Muslims illegally, the group said. And it potentially could label nonviolent demonstrators as terrorists.
“Federal laws are already broad enough to reach anyone who poses a real threat or has even a remote connection to terrorism,” ACLU state executive director Hedy Weinberg said in a written statement.
U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin said the Department of Justice doesn’t comment on pending legislation. But it does keep an eye on laws that could affect religion.
“The department is interested in scrutinizing any legislation that would impact anyone’s right to worship,” he said.
Rabbi Kliel Rose of West End Synagogue in Nashville spoke at Tuesday’s event. He’s concerned that the law targets religious beliefs and labels all Muslims as extremists.
“In all traditions there are people who completely misrepresent the tradition,” he said.
“We see that in the Islamic community. We see that in the Jewish community and certainly in the Christian community. Does that mean they are true representatives of their faith?” Source