The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself: Islamophobia and the Recently Proposed Unconstitutional and Unnecessary Anti-Religion Laws

Article excerpt

We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being. We guarantee the freedom to worship as one chooses. We make room for as wide a variety of beliefs and creeds as the spiritual needs of man deem necessary. We sponsor an attitude on the part of government that shows no partiality to any one group and that lets each flourish according to the zeal of its adherents and the appeal of its dogma.1

INTRODUCTION

On September 1 1, 2001, nineteen al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four passenger airplanes with the intent to destroy American landmarks and inflict massive loss of life.2 All nineteen terrorists were adherents of the Muslim faith and members of the Islamist extremist group, al-Qaeda.3 In the aftermath of the attacks, popular evangelist Franklin Graham referred to Islam as "a very evil and wicked religion."4 Graham's comments were just the beginning of a slew of anti-Islamic sentiment in America following the 9/1 1 attacks.5 Hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims rose dramatically in the wake of the attacks.6 Fear and hatred of Islam in the United States reached a symbolic precipice when the mere belief that, then presidential candidate, Barack Obama, was a "secret Muslim" threatened his viability as a candidate.7 The election of President Obama spawned the birth of the Tea Party movement, a group of often angry, sometimes rude, ultra-conservatives distrustful of the Obama administration that has only contributed to the unusually scornful (even by American standards) modern political climate.8 In fact, former Republican presidential candidate and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich recently stated that he believes "[Islamic law] is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and in the world as we know it" and that he would only support a Muslim-American Presidential candidate if he or she renounced Islamic law.9 Former Senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum has made similar statements.10

Religious phobia is not a new phenomenon in America. Discrimination against newcomers and their religious beliefs has been common throughout history.11 As recently as the early twentieth century, the Catholic Church was considered a "foreign menace" and dangerous to the United States.12 It was not until John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, was elected President in 1960 that irrational fears were quelled about the Pope taking over the nation if a Catholic were to become President.13 Catholics "went from the 'pilloried pariahs' of mid- 19th century America to the leaders of the nation and its Supreme Court - 150 years later."14 Most recently, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has faced an increasing number of questions and concerns over his Mormon faith, a religion "persecuted for much of the nineteenth century."15 On the Islam front, Muslim scholars fear that America is now suffering from Islamophobia - an "unfounded and irrational fear of Islam as a religion and Muslims as a people."16

Despite the fact that Muslims make up only 0.6% of the American population,17 fear of Islam has inspired multiple states to consider anti-Sharia (Islamic law) provisions.18 While Sharia law has no specific definition, it is essentially Islamic law - an ever-evolving set of interpretations on how to practice the Islamic faith.19 While Islam has many proponents who point out that Islam is a peace-loving religion,20 a number of Americans only identify Islam with the smoldering ruins of the Twin Towers, and view the religion as inherently violent and un-American, leading many to support laws damaging to the Muslim community.21 Recognizing that laws specifically targeting Sharia are unlikely to survive judicial scrutiny, some anti-Muslim proponents and state legislators have proposed laws that ban court consideration of all religious law.22

On November 2, 2010, 70% of Oklahoma voters approved a measure, State Question 755, also known as the "Save our State Amendment," banning state courts from considering or using Islamic Sharia law. …