Anti-Shari`a Laws Face Constitutional Challenge

In the past year a number of state legislatures have considered bills and ballot questions impacting Shari`a, the holy law of Islam. While each law calls for different treatment of Shari`a, all Anti-Shari`a laws present real concerns about the legal future of Muslim citizens. Some laws, for example the amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution, would prohibit courts from interpreting or applying Shari`a, or any other foreign laws. Other laws, such as the Tennessee law outlawing the practice of Shari`a entirely, associate the holy law with terrorist organizations or activity. Such laws claim that one of the stated aims of Shari`a is to replace both the federal and state constitutions with Muslim law.

Anti-Shari`a laws will have a profound impact on many Muslims as the Shari`a contains sacred laws by which many believers order their lives. These include laws governing marriage and the drafting of wills and other inheritance instruments. Anti-Shari`a laws like the Oklahoma Amendment are troubling because, if enacted, the laws would limit the ability of Muslims to practice their religion. Furthermore, the laws do not exclude any other religious law. This singles out Islam in a problematic fashion. Read more

Garnett on Kedroff v. St. Nicholas Cathedral

Rick Garnett has posted a thoughtful  essay on the relatively little-known case of Kedroff v. St. Nicholas Cathedral, which the Supreme Court decided in 1952.  At the height of the Cold War, a dispute arose between the Moscow Patriarchate, the supreme head of the Russian Orthodox Church around the world, and the Church’s American diocese.  The American diocese had elected its own bishop and refused to acknowledge the bishop appointed by Moscow, whom the Americans viewed, undoubtedly correctly, as compromised by the Soviets.  The New York State Legislature sided with the Americans and passed a law that, in effect, reorganized the Russian Orthodox Church in America and gave control over church property to the local bishop.

The Supreme Court held the law unconstitutional.   New York had no authority to reorganize a church and interfere in what was, in the end, an internal church matter.  Under the First Amendment, a religious body could organize itself, and settle internal controversies, according to its own ecclesiastical rules.  The existing rules of the Russian Orthodox Church in America gave the Moscow Patriarchate the right to appoint the bishop for the American diocese, and New York would have to defer.

As Rick points out, this case is noteworthy for two things.  First, it testifies to the Read more

Symposium: Sharia in America at New York Law School

On August 25-26, New York Law School will host a symposium, Sharia in America: Principles and Prospects.  Looks very interesting and worth checking out.  A summary of the symposium is below.  — MOD

This symposium will discuss the place of Islamic law in the United States today and in the future, in a variety of legal fields including family, financial, criminal, and constitutional law.

The symposium—featuring commentary by and an opportunity to pose questions to leading experts in Islamic, American, and Jewish law—will address the realities, possibilities, and problems of Islamic law in American courts and American life in light of much attention, misinformation, and hyperbole in the media. Speakers will address how recent Sharia bans at the state level inflame negative views of Muslim Americans and pose risks to the equal protection of Muslims as well as to U.S. national security. They will also discuss where Islamic law exists (or does not exist) in American courts in comparison to Jewish law, and what that means for legal practitioners.

The conference is aimed at disseminating accurate information to and fostering informed discussion among policy makers, the media, legal practitioners, and academics with the help of American scholars who are recognized as leaders in the fields of Islamic as well as Jewish law.

Proposed Circumcision Ban Taken Off Ballot

On July 28, Judge Loretta Giorgi of the California Superior Court for the County of San Francisco ordered that the proposed measure to ban circumcision be removed from the November 8th ballot.   The new law would have made it a misdemeanor, punishable by fine or jail, for any person to perform a circumcision on a male under the age of 18.  The ban provided no religious exception.

Putting aside the possible parental rights issue, for the many citizens whose religious practices require male circumcision, this ban was extremely threatening. For example, one of the most universally practiced rituals amongst the Jewish people is that of “brit milah,” or “the covenant of circumcision.” The Read more