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An Assault On Religious Freedom

Those who peddle hate lack a basic understanding of the history of Muslims in America, and the Constitution of the United States. In targeting the adherents of one faith they seek to undermine one of most basic tenets for the founding of this great nation: religious freedom.
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In recent years a movement has swelled across our nation, one that identifies Islam and the application of Islamic law as a threat to America and the Constitution. Two dozen states have introduced legislation prohibiting courts from considering or applying Islamic law in adjudicating decisions. Four states have passed legislation. An earlier iteration of a Tennessee law would effectively criminalize the practice of Islam, punishing those individuals with up to 15 years in prison.

This meteoric fear of Islam and Islamic law did not happen in a vacuum. Preying upon people's fears, certain individuals, organizations, and politicians are profiteering both politically and financially from promoting hysteria. As the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center have noted, the principal proponents include David Yerushalmi, Brigitte Gabriel, and Frank Gaffney. Yerushalmi, under the aegis of American Laws for American Courts has persuaded state legislatures to introduce his model legislation. He has a history of making racist and incendiary statements against blacks, liberal Jews, and of course Muslims. According to Yerushalmi, liberal Jews have destroyed "their host nations like a fatal parasite" and are "divorced from reality" Meanwhile, with regards to Muslims he said, "this should be a war against Islam and all Muslim a practical level, this means that Sharia and Islamic law are immediately outlawed." He continues that observant Muslims should not be allowed to immigrate to the US and those here must be deported.

Gaffney, the head of the Center for Security Policy recently testified in support of lawsuit challenging the construction of a mosque and community center Murfeesboro, TN. Although he acknowledged under oath that he is not an expert on Sharia, Gaffney confidently asserted: "What is going on in Murfreesboro ... fits into the profile of the stealth jihad that is being waged by the Muslim Brotherhood. It's a mega-mosque that's clearly disproportionate to the community that it's intended to serve. It has the purpose of demonstrating a kind of triumphalist agenda." Yet despite his lack of qualification, he was invited to testify before the New York State Senate's Homeland Security Committee following Congressman Peter King, where Gaffney announced that Sharia is the "enemy threat-doctrine we face today" and that those who support it are committing "sedition and treason.

A number of Republican Presidential candidates have signed pledges banning Islamic law. Newt Gingrich would seek a federal ban because according to him, Sharia is "a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States." In addition to banning Sharia, Hermain Cain would not appoint a Muslim and has explicitly stated that communities can ban the construction of mosques. According to Rick Santorum "creeping Sharia is a huge issue" and represents an "existential threat to America."

Thus it is not surprising that we have witnessed a spike in discrimination, bigotry and in some instances violence against Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim. Two elderly Sikh men in Sacramento were shot in March, with one tragically killed. In April, a 12 year old girl in Staten Island was attacked by classmates who asked "are you Muslim" while attempting to pull off her headscarf. Muslim discrimination comprises nearly 25% of complaints in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, even though they are only 2% of the population. Discrimination takes other forms including the prevention of the construction of mosques and Muslim community centers. This is evidenced by the fact that of the 24 cases brought by the Justice Department pursuant to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, 14 have been brought this past year alone.

It is clear that the anti-Sharia movement seeks to isolate American Muslims and portray them as foreign. David Yerushalmi has said as much with regards to his immigration views. However, history informs us that Muslims have a long-standing relationship with this land that pre-dates Columbus. Muslim ships and traders traveled to the shores and millions more came on board slave ships. Many are familiar with Alex Haley's famous work Roots and the story of his ancestor Kunta Kinte. According to scholars, Kunta Kinte was born in Gambia in 1750 and was learned in the Quran. There is also Abdul-Rehman Ibrahim ibn Sori whose life we know through the research of Professor Terry Alford and Alex Kronemer's PBS documentary "Prince Among Slaves." A prince from Fouta Djallon in West Africa, who after 40 years in enslavement was freed by President John Quincy Adams in 1828. The reality is that many of the first Muslims did not come here by choice but they helped build this nation.

Given the vitriol and hostility towards Muslims today, it may surprise some to learn that the earliest leaders of our nation had a respect for Islam. Thomas Jefferson owned a copy of the Quran, which sits in the Library of Congress today. In fact, in 2007, our nation's first Muslim Congressman, Keith Ellison, took his ceremonial oath on Jefferson's Quran. The forty-four foot marble walls of the United States Supreme Court Chamber are lined with sculptures of the law givers of human history including: Hammurabi, Moses, Confucius, and Muhammad. One of our nation's earliest treaties established the context of America's view of Muslims. Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli, ratified by the Senate on June 7, 1797 and signed into law by President Adams on June 10th reads: "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws,
religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen (Muslims)..."

Unfortunately, those who peddle hate lack a basic understanding not only of the history of Muslims in America, but also the Constitution of the United States. In targeting the adherents of one faith they seek to undermine one of most basic tenets for the founding of this great nation: religious freedom. Thus far the only major Republican figure to challenge this mantra is Governor Chris Christie, who in response to allegations that his nominee for Superior Court judge Sohail Mohammed would bow to Sharia said, "This Sharia law business is crap. It's just crazy, and I'm tired of dealing with the crazies. It's just unnecessary to be accusing this guy of things just because of his religious background." The GOP would do well to heed his warning.