Religious Freedom For Whom?
There is no value more central to the American story than religious liberty. It was this dream that drove the first colonists from their native countries. The principle that an individual would be free to practice (or not practice) whatever religion they choose was so important to America’s founding fathers that they enshrined it into the constitution. Like the history of all peoples, the American past is full of assaults, institutional and in practice, on the rights of others. Yet it is equally true that the aspiration for individual freedom, beginning with religious practice, is part of our original DNA. Therefore, the state based assaults of this core principle, should be adamantly opposed by all Americans.
Discriminating Against Muslim Women
This is the time of year when my personal Facebook feed tends to be full of outrage at claims that Walmart greeters are acknowledging those of different faiths with a “Happy Holidays” greeting in lieu of “Merry Christmas.” Yet these are the same people who have been silent or even supportive of the passage of laws limiting religious freedom. Americans of all faiths, including conservative Christians, should be appalled by the anti-Sharia legislation being passed in states across the country.
North Carolina recently became the twenty-sixth state to pass some form of anti-Sharia legislation. Supporters have repeatedly claimed that these laws protect women from discrimination. Unfortunately, one only has to look to the actual cases when these laws have been applied to discover how they are being used against the women they claim to help.
First, though, a point of clarification on the applicability of these statutes in our legal system. Foreign laws are only taken into consideration in the area of contract law. Typically these tend to be divorce cases in which the marriage was established in a foreign country. Courts are not bound by these contracts if they contradict American law or violate any commonly applied standard to similar cases. You can read about this in greater detail at First Things.
The problem with anti-Sharia laws is that they prevent courts from taking these marriage contracts into consideration at all. Rafia Zakaria provides an illustrative example:
“In July 2012, Kansas banned Sharia law. In August 2012, a divorce action appeared before a state court, in which a Muslim woman residing in a domestic violence shelter sought divorce from an older, abusive husband.
The couple had been married in Iran and had an Islamic marriage contract. Under US family law, the short duration of the marriage meant that the wife was not entitled to either marital support or alimony payments. Owing to her desperate financial situation (she was also a recent immigrant, having migrated because of the marriage), the wife sought to have her Islamic marriage contract, which stipulated support payments, be enforced.
Solely owing to the Sharia ban, the Kansas court refused to do so. While the divorce was granted, the woman, still residing in a shelter, was unable to avail any of the means she had been promised in her marriage contract. Further evidence of the anti-feminist nature of Sharia bans can be gleaned from cases in other states such as New York, where no Sharia ban exists and where women have been able to obtain support payments based on their marriage contracts when US law would not otherwise provide them.”
Bullying School Children
Unfortunately, this is not the only violation of religious freedom that has caught my attention. The Atlantic recently featured the problem of bullying faced by non-religiously affiliated school children. In one prominent example, Muldrow (OK) High School Student, Gage Pulliam, protested the placement of a plaque with the ten commandments in his biology classroom. When it was removed, Pulliam and the other areligious students became targets of violence and threats by classmates. Their parents become concerned about their safety. The surrounding community, which extended into neighboring states, sided with the bullies. Outrageously, many Christian churches spoke out against the atheist children instead of protesting their treatment — a clear violation of neighborly love. Even when violence itself is not directly encouraged, the toleration and creation of hostile environments directly contributes to these abhorrent acts.
In my conversations with conservative Christians, there seems to be a lack of awareness that individual liberty is only protected to the extent that the rights of minorities are observed. On a more personal note, I have nothing but the greatest empathy for these students. I grew up about eighty miles from Muldrow as an unrepentant Catholic in the heart of the Baptist Bible belt. My eighth grade American history teacher regularly read from the Bible rather than our textbook. [I doubt anyone learned much about American history that year] On more than one occasion, these “lessons” attacked principles of my faith, which she was aware of through our personal interactions. In other words, it was one of many intentional attempts to “convert” me. My Mormon classmates had it much worse as they were routinely mocked inside and outside of our public school classrooms. It saddens me to read that not much has changed in this area of the country. As Americans and those of us who consider ourselves to be Christians, we are all diminished by such intolerance.
What about you? Have you been targeted for your religious beliefs? Do you know someone who has? Leave a comment!