Jan 16 2012

ACLU: How can you simultaneously defend sharia and rights?

One Law for All co-spokesperson Anne Marie Waters has just sent off a letter to the the ACLU criticising its support or sharia law. In the letter she asks: ‘I am interested to know how the ACLU intends to square the circle on this, and how you can simultaneously support the application of sharia law in US Courts while claiming to stand up for the rights of women and fight against gender-based violence and discrimination.’

Here’s the letter in full.

American Civil Liberties Union
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York
NY 10004

January 13th 2012

Dear Sir/Madam,

Re: Sharia Law

I write this open letter on behalf of the One Law for All campaign. We campaign for an end to discriminatory religious laws in the UK and for all people to be treated with equality under the law regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity.

I read with interest your position on a case, originating in the state of Oklahoma, in which a Federal Appeals Court upheld an injunction against a ban on the use of Islamic sharia law in that state. Several important questions are raised regarding your support for this injunction and I would be grateful if you could lend me your thoughts on the following issues.

Here in the United Kingdom, sharia courts have been operating for several years with the full backing (or at least without the disapproval) of successive Governments. Their decisions are enforceable in UK law under the Arbitration Act, arbitration being used until now almost exclusively for the resolution of commercial disputes. One Law for All is deeply concerned about this, and aims to reverse the situation, for the following reasons:

1) Under sharia law, as it is practised in Britain, a woman’s testimony in family matters is worth only half of that of her husband. In practise, this means that a woman must provide a witness to back up her evidence, but her husband is not required to do the same. In family law, where a wife almost always finds herself in opposition to her husband, this places her at a distinct disadvantage. If you are minded to argue that this is not true, I refer you to the words of the Islamic Sharia Council, which operates the largest network of ‘mainstream’ sharia courts in the UK. It states: “(Surah Al-Baqara 2:282) which requires two female witnesses in place of one male witness, gives a clear reason for it i.e. “if one of them forgets, the other reminds her.”” In her evidence to a fact-finding group facilitated by Baroness Caroline Cox, a member of the British House of Lords, “Sania” – who experienced sharia law first-hand – stated the following: “The Sharia Council then insisted that I brought along two Muslim witnesses to attend the Sharia Council with me to confirm that I was telling the truth. However, [my husband] did not require any witnesses because he is a man”.

2) Under sharia law, a man has a unilateral right to divorce, whereas for a woman obtaining a divorce is extremely difficult; she needs either the permission of her husband or of a sharia judge. Again, I refer you to the words of the Islamic Sharia Council on this: “the right of divorce is vested in the hand of the man while she is allowed to ask for divorce either directly or through a Qadi (Judge). Why? Because the women are kind-hearted human beings who are governed by their emotions, a character strongly needed for bringing up the children.” In her evidence to Baroness Cox, “Fozia” stated: “Despite all the time, money and emotional energy and the fact that Abdul is remarried with a child, the Islamic Sharia Council still refused to give me an Islamic divorce”.

3) In sharia law, women are not party to their own marriage contract – it is a contract between her husband and her male “guardian”. In her evidence to Baroness Cox, “Sami” said: “Khaled [Sami’s intended husband] travelled to Jordan to gain written permission from my 11 year old son, who represented my guardian according to the Imam”.

4) Domestic violence is trivialised in sharia law, and does not constitute grounds for divorce. Indeed, many sharia judges in Britain consider domestic violence to be the ‘right’ of a husband. Violence within marriage is a serious offence in Britain which can, and does, result in the imprisonment of offenders. However, the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal (the UK’s second largest network of sharia courts) takes a rather different view. In an interview with the Telegraph newspaper, Sheikh Faiz-Ul-Aqtab Siddiqi said that in the cases of domestic violence heard by his tribunal, judges had ordered husbands to take anger management classes, with no further punishment. Sheikh Siddiqi also told the BBC that his organisation wants full jurisdiction over domestic violence cases involving Muslims in the UK, and has openly called for this. He also said that his group intends to expand and to cover “smaller” criminal cases in the future. (He confirmed that women receive half the amount of men in inheritance cases as well).

5) In October 2010, Sheikh Maulana Abu Sayeed, president of Britain’s Islamic Sharia Council, told the Independent newspaper that rape within marriage is “impossible”. Marital rape is a criminal offence in the United Kingdom and carries the same prison term as rape under other circumstances. The president of the Islamic Sharia Council – who acknowledged that his council deals with these cases – stated: “Clearly there cannot be any rape within the marriage. Maybe aggression, maybe indecent activity… Because when they got married, the understanding was that sexual intercourse was part of the marriage, so there cannot be anything against sex in marriage.”

6) Under sharia law, custody of children is awarded to fathers from a preset age regardless of the circumstances of the case. Not only does this deny women custody and access rights to their children, but it represents a danger to the children themselves. On this issue, the Islamic Sharia Council’s statements are too long to outline here, but please see the following page http://www.islamic-sharia.org/children/islamic-perspective-on-child-custody-after-divorce-3.html. You will note that the “period of female custody” (i.e. the mother’s custody rights) ends when the children are around 7 – 9 years old. In her evidence to Baroness Cox, “Miri” stated: “Then I was sent a letter to say that I had to give him full access if not hand over my children for him to raise – I thought my life had ended and I was thrown in to deep water and there was no way out”. “Miri” had applied for divorce alleging that her husband was both physically and emotionally abusive.

Apologists often claim that opposing sharia law represents an attack on Muslims. However, both in Britain and across the world, it is Muslims – or those living under Sharia laws – who are at the forefront of the fight against sharia law and who suffer most from its application. All of the women who testified to Baroness Cox above are Muslim women and all of them are seeking a ban on this law in the UK. Indeed, our campaign is widely supported by Muslim groups.

I should also point out that the sharia law I describe above – again as apologists state ad nauseum – is not sharia’s criminal code that hangs gay teenagers (as in Iran) or stones adulterers to death (as in Saudi Arabia) but its civil code that is practised openly here in the west.
Given the above, I am interested to know how the ACLU intends to square the circle on this, and how you can simultaneously support the application of sharia law in US Courts while claiming to stand up for the rights of women and fight against gender-based violence and discrimination.

I would also be grateful to know precisely which amendment to the US Constitution guarantees a citizen’s right to be governed by a separate – and deeply misogynist – legal system.

As you know, the first amendment of the United States Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…. “ While we do not claim to be experts on the US Constitution, is there not an argument that in allowing sharia law to be applied in the Courts of the United States, this amendment is in fact breached as it represents an “establishment of religion”? Can you also tell me the ACLU’s position on where the right to the free exercise of religion ends, and where a woman’s right to live without violence (see the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, Articles 3 and 5) begins? Do you agree that the right to practise one’s religion does not provide a right to commit violence or exercise sexist discrimination in the name of that religion, nor does it provide a right to have such discriminatory laws enshrined in a country’s legal system?

I await your response to the issues raised above with great interest. Failure to respond can only lead me to conclude that you concede on the points raised and you acknowledge that the ACLU supports a misogynist legal system at the expense of the rights and equality of Muslim women in the United States (and we will publish as such).

Yours faithfully,

Anne Marie Waters
One Law for All
BM Box 2387
London WC1N 3XX




www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/2010-2012/0072/2012072.pdf (House of Lords)
Evidence of How Arbitration Tribunals Operate in the UK (Baroness Caroline Cox – confidential)



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  1. 1

    I wasn’t aware the ACLU has been supporting or defending attempts to introduce Sharia here in the U.S. Are there any specific cases tht prompted this letter?

  2. 2
    Nomen Nescio

    i imagine they defend it the same way they would defend the jewish equivalent — by appealing to the right to enter private agreements of arbitration, and on the assumption that all such application of sharia (or kashrut rules, or whatever) are freely agreed to beforehand by all parties.

    the fly in this ointment is social coercion to use such arbitration instead of secular law. evidence of such would be a serious problem for the ACLU, i would imagine.

  3. 3

    With regards to the OK case I believe the injunction was upheld due to the attempt to prevent the consideration of international law in cases rather than anything specifically to do with Sharia:

    This measure amends the State Constitution. It changes a section that deals with the courts of this state. It would amend Article 7, Section 1. It makes courts rely on federal and state law when deciding cases. It forbids courts from considering or using international law. It forbids courts from considering or using Sharia Law.

    Ed Brayton posted about this a few days back:


  4. 4

    Because it’s a nakedly racist law that singles out one religious community while ignoring other religious groups that would like to see their rules made law? The fact that no court in the USA upholds sharia law anyway doing so would violate the establishment clause, making the law redundant as well as racist? Not forgetting that freedom of religion is one of those human rights that the ACLU seeks to protect…

    1. 4.1
      Maryam Namazie

      So if you ban canon law or the beth din you are racist against Christians and Jews? Religious laws are not the same as people who hold religious beliefs. Freedom of religion is not the same as having religious courts that hold women to be worth half that of men and so on…

      1. Ramel

        1) If you were to ban Jewish law and only Jewish law then yes, that would be discrimination.

        2) The piece of legislation that the ACLU is fighting against is not about the existence of Islamic courts, it forbids state courts from applying sharia law when making decisions. Which they don’t do anyway.

        1. Maryam Namazie

          So we shouldn’t call for a ban on racial apartheid because it is discriminatory not to also call for a ban on gender apartheid… Ah yes the familiar argument but a false one. It is sharia law and the beth din that are discriminatory not calling for their ban – even if you only call for the ban of one of them!

          1. Ramel

            I grew up gay in Bahrain, a Muslim country with laws based on sharia, and have no love for the system that keeps me living a long way from the place I grew up. A system that also meant that after my mother’s accident she got significantly less compensation than she would have received if she had been male. But none of that changes the facts of this specific case.

            The “gender apartheid” is not part of the law, but part of the sharia courts which carry no legal weight and are attended on a voluntary basis. You can make a strong argument that social pressure forces people to volunteer against their best interests, which is an issue that needs to be addressed. But the law in question does no such thing, it serves to push the Islamic community further away from the mainstream meaning more people will end up in the sharia courts.

            The legislation that the ACLU is fighting adds explicit discrimination against one specific religious minority to the state constitution by banning something that’s already against the rules. It exists for no purpose other than bashing a minority group to feed the fears of the ignorant in a crude (yet depressingly effective) attempt to win votes, it has nothing to do with protecting anyone from anything.

            Advocating that no religious rules being applied in a state would be fine, and in fact the constitution already has that law in the establishment clause of the first amendment, however advocating that one specific minority religion should be singled out for a special ban is an unacceptable act of discrimination.

          2. Andre

            A very good thought Ramel, I wonder how Maryam Namazie will reply ? or won’t she ?

          3. Chris from Europe

            [...] to the the ACLU criticising its support or sharia law [...]

            That’s a lie right in your first sentence. The sad thing I gather from reading your reactions to other comments, the whole thing goes over your head.

        2. mrianabrinson

          Excuse me, Remal, but the U.S. is a Secular Nation, not a Xian nation, a Muslim Nation, or a Jewish Nation. We have the First Amendment, which states that there is a separation of Church and State. To be exact the First Amendment says:

          Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.


          To have any religious court within our governmental system is a violation of our First Amendment. In order to have freedom OF religion, we MUST have freedom FROM religion, which means that the U.S. government cannot approve, use, or support any religious court system or set of religious laws. This is not discrimination, but rather a protection of U.S. citizens. Many of our forefathers came here to escape religious prosecution in Britain, who was at one time under the rule of Church of England. If one was Anabaptist, Baptist, Methodist, or whatever branch of Protestant, then they had BIG problems under British law at the time. Thus why many, including some of my ancestors, who were Pilgrims, came to the Colonies prior to the U.S. gaining their freedom from Britain. Islam, nor any other form of religion, cannot be in our government PERIOD! This is not bigotry, racism, or discrimination, this IS OUR Constitutional rights under the First Amendment, so do us all a favour and KEEP YOUR DIRTY STINKING RELIGION OUT OF MY GOVERNMENT! This goes for the Xian Religious Reich too. I fight them just as much, because the U.S. is NOT a Christian Nation either and it NEVER was. STOP TRYING TO VIOLATE AND UNDERMINE THE FIRST AMENDMENT OF THE U.S. CONSTITUTION. If you cannot do that, then STAY OUT OF THE U.S. Thank you very much.

          1. Ramel

            For a start I use the name Ramel, not Remal, secondly please try reading what I actually wrote.

          2. mrianabrinson

            My apologies for misspelling your name and misreading your post the first time around, Ramel. The First Amendment is a very important one to me, as I’m sure it is with you. However, I do see what the ACLU is doing as a violation of the First Amendment. Sharia should not be anywhere in our court system or government and neither should the 10 Commandments or any other laws in the Bible/Talmud. This holds true with any other religion that has religious laws too.

          3. Ramel

            That’s OK, just try to use fewer capitals next time.

    2. 4.2
      Anne Marie

      Firstly, freedom of religion is not unlimited. It is confined to a freedom of practise which does not encroach upon other people’s rights. So, if my religion permits me to behave violently, my freedom is curtailed due to other people’s rights to live without violence.

      Freedom of religion also does not mean freedom to have that religion enshrined in the law.

      You seem to be missing the point – as does the ACLU. The Oklahoma amendment would have barred Courts from applying sharia. Good! Sharia itself – particularly in family law – contains aspects which amount to serious violations of human rights and of civil liberties and if we are consistent in our belief in rights and civil liberties, it is sharia we should be fighting, not those who wish to disallow it.

      In sharia family law, a woman does not have the same divorce or child custody rights as a man, not to mention the fact that domestic violence and marital rape are not offences in sharia.

      In a matter of domestic violence then, a man could claim the ‘right’ to be judged by sharia rather than domestic law, and therefore claim his right to beat his wife. What about her rights in this instance? And if you’re thinking ‘rubbish’… let me enlighten you: in a New Jersey courtroom in 2010, a judge dismissed a woman’s charge of sexual assault and domestic violence using the following words: “This court does not feel that, under the circumstances, that this defendant had a criminal desire to or intent to sexually assault or to sexually contact the plaintiff when he did. The court believes that he was operating under his belief that it is, as the husband, his desire to have sex when and whether he wanted to, was something that was consistent with his practices and it was something that was not prohibited.”

      The above example is exactly what happens when you allow religious laws a space in the secular legal system. Muslim women will have a different set of laws governing their lives and will not have the same protection from violence as non-Muslim women.

      The ACLU would be better employed in arguing that all people should have the same rights and protections regardless of their religion and that means keeping religious law out of secular legal courts.

      We are arguing that people should not be subject to a different legal system because they happen to be of a certain race or religion, but that all people should be treated the same. And yet we are the ones accused of racism? George Orwell could not have dreamt such double-think.

      1. strange gods before me ॐ

        The above example is exactly what happens when you allow religious laws a space in the secular legal system.

        Well, no, not exactly.

        What happened — the above example was overturned by the appelate court:

        The trial judge found as a fact that defendant committed conduct that constituted a sexual assault and criminal sexual contact, but that defendant did not have the requisite criminal intent in doing so. His conclusion in this respect cannot be sustained. N.J.S.A. 2C:2-2c(3) establishes the principle that criminal statutes that do not designate a specific culpability requirement should be construed as requiring knowing conduct.

        A person acts knowingly with respect to the nature of his conduct or the attendant circumstances if he is aware that his conduct is of that nature, or that such circumstances exist . . . .

        [N.J.S.A. 2C:2-2b(2).]

        Defendant’s conduct in engaging in nonconsensual sexual intercourse was unquestionably knowing, regardless of his view that his religion permitted him to act as he did.

        As the judge recognized, the case thus presents a conflict between the criminal law and religious precepts. In resolving this conflict, the judge determined to except defendant from the operation of the State’s statutes as the result of his religious beliefs. In doing so, the judge was mistaken.

        Early law in this area arose out of prosecutions of Mormons who practiced polygamy. In Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145, 25 L. Ed. 244 (1878), the Supreme Court considered an appeal from a Mormon’s conviction under a Congressionally passed bigamy statute applicable to the Utah territory. At trial, the defendant proved that, at the time of his second marriage, it was an accepted doctrine of the Church “that it was the duty of male members of said Church, circumstances permitting, to practice polygamy” and “[t]hat he had received permission from the recognized authorities in said Church to enter into polygamous marriage.” Id. at 161, 25 L. Ed. at 248. As a consequence, defendant sought a charge to the jury that “if he was married . . . in pursuance of and in conformity with what he believed at the time to be a religious duty, that the verdict must be ‘not guilty.’” Id. at 162, 25 L. Ed. at 249. The judge refused to give the charge, ibid., and defendant was convicted of the crime.

        In affirming the conviction, the Court framed the issue in the following fashion: “Upon this charge and refusal to charge the question is raised, whether religious belief can be accepted as a justification of an overt act made criminal by the law of the land.” Ibid. In resolving the issue, the Court noted that “Congress cannot pass a law for the government of the Territories which shall prohibit the free exercise of religion. The first amendment to the Constitution expressly forbids such legislation.” Ibid. Nonetheless, the Court found that the First Amendment’s guaranty of religious freedom was not intended to preclude the prohibition of polygamy and, therefore, enactment of the statute was within the legislative power of Congress “as prescribing a rule of action for all those residing in the Territories, and in places over which the United States have exclusive control.” Id. at 166, 25 L. Ed. at 250. The Court further determined that those who made polygamy a part of their religion were not excepted from the statute’s operation.

        So what happens, exactly, is the US courts ultimately rule that religious considerations do not stand up against a compelling state interest. In your example, the appellate court reversed the lower judge, and sided with the plaintiff (the woman, who was seeking a restraining order).

        1. Anne Marie

          I’m fully aware it was overturned, but that doesn’t change the fact that the original judge took aspects of sharia (and they are aspects of sharia) in to account when making his decision: she was left with less protection by that court because of his religious beliefs.

          1. mrianabrinson

            And that, I would say, is against the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

          2. strange gods before me ॐ

            I’m fully aware it was overturned,

            The reader might not be. Neither do you note that your German case, cited below, was also overturned.

            the fact that the original judge took aspects of sharia (and they are aspects of sharia) in to account when making his decision

            I’m not persuaded that this is a fact at all. The trial case does not appear to be online, but I’m reading the appellate case, and the part you originally excerpted was about the defendant’s mens rea. The trial judge does not appear to have consulted any sharia jurisprudence whatsoever.

            Establishing mens rea can involve any number of odd beliefs a person might have about the law. The defendant could just as well have claimed that he thought he had the right to rape his wife because Glenn Quagmire told him so.

            And now we have judicial precedent saying that a religious belief like this is not sufficient for a defense based on lack of mens rea.

        2. Anne Marie

          Let me put it another way. In this case, the judge applied sharia (or some of it at least) and because sharia was applied, she had less protection from violence than if it hadn’t.

          What we are arguing is that sharia should not be applied because the end result is less protection from violence for Muslim women.

          Another example from Germany: a young woman approached the mainstream secular courts for a divorce because her husband was violent towards her (something that was not in dispute). The judge applied sharia and denied her the divorce because she said that sharia allows him to hit her. She was a German woman with a German passport who had grown up in Germany and yet she was denied a divorce by a secular court which applied sharia because they were Muslims. Disgraceful.

          The Oklahoma amendment would have barred the application of sharia, and for the reasons I mention above, I applaud that. As, if it is consistent in its argument for gender equality, should the ACLU.

          1. strange gods before me ॐ

            I gave you links to the ACLU’s writing on this case. Did you read any of it yet?

          2. Chris from Europe

            The statement about the German court decision is a lie. The court used her religious beliefs as argument against her request for a fast divorce. The main issue is that German courts don’t usually grant fast divorces and especially conservative point to an article of the constitution about the protection of marriage and family. The judge rejected the request because she used the religious beliefs of the wife as evidence that the conditions in the marriage were not unusual or harsh for her background (that’s not sharia law, but victim blaming). The argument of the judge didn’t rely on the religious cite.

            Of course, at least the argument was against German law (and the judge made false assumptions about Moroccan law, according to reports). The court replaced the change for the case. If I remember the reports correctly, the original judge had some personal issues.

            When this case and others are honestly presented, they can’t be used for your argument. In the end, the problem was an incorrect decision and the system corrected itself.

      2. LeftSidePositive

        Sadly, this New Jersey case is not that uncommon, but actually has nothing to do with Sharia. Sadly, American judges are not nearly as enlightened as we wish they’d be when it comes to domestic violence, sexual assault, etc., and will take just about any excuse to downplay violence against women, no matter what the excuse happens to be, for instance:


        A judge married a couple, at the abuser’s request, so the victim (now wife) wouldn’t have to testify against the abuser, so the judge could find the abuser not guilty. No Sharia here, just garden-variety American douchebaggery.

    3. 4.3

      Ramel, religion is not a race. Anyone can be Islamic and anyone can be Xian. Religion is not exclusive to race. A White person can be Islamic, just as a Middle Eastern person can and the same holds true with Xianity and Judaism. In fact, both Xians and Muslims attempt to battle for “souls” and gain converts of any race. They really don’t care what colour your skin is, as long as you are part of the “right religion”, which is their religion. It doesn’t have a thing to do with race, despite the fact that the majority of Xians are WASPs and the majority of Muslims are Middle Eastern.

    4. 4.4
      Tony! The Queer Shoop

      I agree with you completely. I am strongly against religion. I think it is a pox on humanity. That said, having read the Sharia Law Amendment, I find it unconstitutional, likely for the same reasons the ACLU does.
      http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/Oklahoma_%22Sharia_Law_Amendment%22,_State_Question_755_%282010%29 .
      As I understand it (and please, anyone, correct me if I’m wrong), Sharia Law is a wide ranging collection of ethics and principles that believers are supposed to observe.
      The Amendment forbids courts from considering or using Sharia Law. I’m not at all calling for them to do so. In fact, from what I’ve read, Sharia Law is an abhorrent system of “justice” based on theocratic rules. The fact remains that for many Muslims it is an important aspect of their lives. Whether it is right or wrong is beside the point. Singling out Muslims and saying “we will not recognize your religious beliefs when considering court cases” is discriminatory. It would be no more constitutional to replace “Sharia Law” with “Biblical laws”.
      It is true that many of us long for the day when there is no such thing as Sharia Law or Biblical Law, or anything remotely religious. The journey there, however, should not involve discrimination against people that we don’t agree with.

      1. Maryam Namazie

        I think the problem here is that Sharia law is seen as the demand of Muslims. Sharia law courts is a relatively new phenomenon in contemporary society and is a direct result of the rise of Islamism. It’s a tool to restrict and control people and particularly women. How aburd that it is touted as people’s choice when choice is the first thing that goes out the window when it has access to power. It may help to stop seeing Muslims from the lens of Islamism, and any resistance from the lens of the far-Right (Islamism is a far-right movement too). Start looking from a human lens instead. And then see if you think that removing a discriminatory law is discriminatory…

      2. mrianabrinson

        Muslims’ religion should NOT be considered in a U.S. court of law nor should anyone else’s. It would be unconstitutional to bring religion into the court room.

    5. 4.5
      Maryam Namazie

      Sharia court rulings do carry legal weight. In Britain for example it has legal standing as it is using the Arbitration Act. This was also the case in Canada’s Ontario Province where the courts were banned – all of them – after years of campaigning and the government decided ‘one secular law for all’. That is what we are calling for everywhere.

      Despite the discrimination, proponents argue that adult women have a right to choose Sharia courts. But the use of the terms choice and rights are highly deceptive. Firstly, many are pressured into going to these courts. In one study, a staggering four out of ten women attending the Sharia court were party to civil injunctions issued against their husbands on the grounds of violence and threatening behaviour. They were not even meant to be in the same vicinity with them – let alone be, as they were, in a Sharia Council mediating civil matters. ‘In this way, these privatised legal processes were ignoring not only state law intervention and due process but providing little protection and safety for the women in question. Furthermore the interviews and observation data revealed that husbands used this opportunity to negotiate reconciliation, financial settlements for divorce, and in many cases access to children.’

      Also there is very little choice when living under what I call an Islamic inquisition. Islamists don’t let you pick and choose but will threaten or intimidate anyone who transgresses their medieval norms. They say it openly. An Islamic Sharia judge has said, ‘In the Sharia, there is no exception; you have to accept it.’ They’ve also said very clearly, ‘belittling [Sharia law] or calling [it] out-of-date constitutes disbelief as Allah says’ and we know what the penalty for disbelief is.

      Using terms such as rights and choice are merely public relations ploys by Islamists and their supporters. It’s absurd when Islamists talk of choice. There is no choice when they are in power. And it’s deceptive. One can justify anything by saying it’s a ‘choice.’ The hadith on stoning comes to mind. It is said that a woman begged the prophet Mohammad thrice before he reluctantly agreed to stone her to death. Scholars of the Institute for Oriental Studies in India have reported that out of 40 eyewitness accounts, only two women ‘involuntarily’ threw themselves on the burning pyres of their dead husbands in order to legitimise suttee. The rest, they say, made a ‘voluntary choice.’ They go on to justify suttee by saying that suicide is also not illegal in the west and that euthanasia is acceptable as if they are one and the same. These are not choices.

      Calling for a ban on Sharia or any religious laws aren’t discriminatory; in fact it helps to ensure that people are not discriminated against and that they are treated equally before the law. Just like banning Islamic schools does not discriminate against children; it helps to level the playing field and ensure equal treatment and access to a secular education.

      Of course this applies to all religious laws, however, Sharia law in particular and in day and age is the demand of Islamism not Muslims per se and so fighting it is important. Even if it the fight is against Sharia alone.

      For sources for the above, see my article here: http://freethoughtblogs.com/maryamnamazie/2011/07/20/sharia-law-is-a-code-of-despair-a-code-obsessed-with-women/

  5. 5
    strange gods before me ॐ

    The ACLU’s argument is already publicly available.

    Also of interest, the argument put forward by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

  6. 6

    I noticed this about a year ago and wondered even then how they can support the rights of women and other minorities when they also support Sharia. It made no sense to me, but what can one person’s letter or phone call do, esp if the rest of the nation isn’t upset about it? Sadly, there are people who don’t get what the problem is and think we should be open-minded about other religions and consider speaking out being “racist” (religion is not a race or exclusive to race), discriminating, bigoted, and a slew of other things, which are coming from people who go back generations as U.S. citizens. Either they are the ones close-minded or they are truly naive or both. They just don’t want to see the dangers in this, but then again, there are others, who truly are bigoted and racists, and will speak out against this. They would sooner do our dear president harm because they don’t believe he is a U.S. citizen, when he is, and believe he is a Muslim, when he is not. This group, which is made of mostly Xian extremists, makes up just as much crap as the first group closes their eyes to various crimes against humanity. What to do when you are of neither extreme, yet at the same time agree with some things Brigitte Gabriel says about Islamic extremists? I really think people need to learn just how bad Islam is, esp when it comes to Sharia and extremism, but this fight between those who wish to be “All Inclusive” at the risk of losing our country and the Xian Religious Reich, makes it hard not to be group with either side. I am part of neither group, for I do not want the Xian Religious Reich taking over and making this country a Xian nation when our forefathers wanted it to be a Secular nation nor do I want Islamic extremists with Sharia. Sadly, I fight two extremes and it gets missed when I speak out against the Islamic crap.

  7. 7

    I state that I am an atheist, so I consider myself privileged in assessing the religious question. Until there are religions, there will be always a matter of the dispute. First degree equation: no religion = no dispute. The serious thing is that it is believed that religion elevate the spirit of men. Instead, it enslaves them, because it is using the fear of death and what we may be after. From time immemorial the religio has been used as a tool of conviction, of oppression, of mental torture. All, with the aim of obtaining and/or retaining power. Religion was always been a tool of power.

    1. 7.1

      I agree, angelo, the thing is, the U.S. Constitution was set up to prevent this, except the religious are trying very hard to find ways around this and sneak their religion into our court system- not just Islamics, but Xians too. It’s getting really old and I don’t think I’ve seen it this bad in all my life.

      1. Martyn

        Miss Mriana,

        You state; ‘It’s getting really old and I don’t think I’ve seen it this bad in all my life.’

        Just to clarify, but does this statement refer to the way American christians are forcing their religion into the courts in the US?

        The First Ammendment is a great document. It spells out its purpose and meaning with great clarity, but the religious right have hijacked it to a certain extent.

        Given that you are American, can you offer some insight into how this has come about?

        1. mrianabrinson

          I can only offer my opinion, but there are Christian groups who truly believe that this country was founded on Xianity (however they are wrong) and they strongly want to make this country a Theocracy. The list of groups vary from the Dominionists to Focus on the Family, which is an Evangelical Fundamentalist group, to the 7 Mountains. Many of these groups, much like Islamic Sharia, want our government ran by Biblical Law, which is not much different from Sharia, IMO. As evidence of it not being much different, I refer to the first several books of the Bible, which is the Torah (or the Law) in Judaism. Know what the punishment for defying your parents is? How about homosexuality? Adultery, esp if you are a woman? Etc etc? If you said, “Stoning”, your right. Sound a bit extreme for the U.S., but when Xian extremists say they want Biblical law for the U.S., that is Biblical law. Guess who has to marry her rapists, if she is raped? It’s insane.

          It started with the “Red Scare” (fear of Communist Russia) in the 50s, in which the line “Under God” was inserted into our pledge and “in God we trust” was added to our money. Now this fear has changed into a fear of Islam, which in some respects is reasonable, but the means of fighting back (with religion) is not. This battle between the 3 Abrahamic religions has gone on for centuries and it has always led to blood shed. Turning this country into a Theocracy that would send us back to the Dark Ages, even educationally, is not the answer, but over the years, the Religious Reich (as I like to call the Religious Right), as managed to worm their way into our political system, more so every day in recent years.

          However, the thing is, I see it as a backlash to Islam, just as the various additions to our pledge and money was a backlash to Communism. The louder Islamist get, the worse the Religious Reich seems to get. Both Xian extremists and Islamic extremists have the same goal- for their religion to take over the world, as well as the expectation of their Saviour/prophet to return from the clouds. The thing is, that would mean their god is a nuclear weapon. The problem is, Xianity and Islam share the same roots- Judaism- and the more literal and extreme a religion takes those first several books (Judaism has their extremists too) the more dangerous it becomes- even politically.

          It’s all right there in their various books, albeit twisted in a sordid manner. Revelations is not about the end of the world, but the end of an age. I could go on and on, but Rapture theology twists things in a bizarre manner and many who follow this want to force their Jesus to return, thus they desire war with the Middle East (back to the Nuclear weapon deity), as well as force conversion. Islamic extremists seem to have a much similar goal, except they do not call it the Rapture or pull their return of their prophet from the book of Revelations. Still, Muhammad is suppose to return, much like Jesus. :roll:

          Long story short, I blame religious extremism for much of this mess, as well as the religious as a whole for not stopping it. Extremism is not limited to Islam. What we see in Islamic extremism, we see much similar in Xian extremism (including the abuse of women and children, mostly, but not all, behind closed doors, but enabled by religious authorities). Xian Extremists want the Sharia version of Xian Law to be the law of the land and it sometimes feels like there is no end or no stopping them.

          If you visit http://www.goddiscussion.com of which I am the humanist columnist and writer, you can read and even hear (we have a podcast) more. I could even provide links to show their intent is similar to Islamic extremism too. Many of us on that site grew up in some of these extreme groups and are now Ex-Christians. Unfortunately, I could write a book on this religious extremist crap. I’m not talking about Xians, such as Episcopalians, Lutherans, or Methodists, but rather those who are truly extreme.

  8. 8

    ACLU: How can you simultaneously defend sharia and rights?

    I say that it is NOT possible. As long as different rules apply to men and women they cannot be simultaneously defended.

  9. 9

    If I understand correctly, the case in Oklahoma seems to be about a person who said that he wanted Sharia to be used to interpret anything that was unclear in his will, which seems entirely different from the cases in England that were cited. If it’s someone’s will, he’s perfectly free to dole out his money however he likes, provided anything he wants is not itself illegal (I’m relatively unclear on the specifics of estate law), and I see no reason why someone can’t cite Pastafarian tradition or Pride & Prejudice in how they want their money appropriated–it is their money, after all. In this case, they would be choosing between a set of possible interpretations of his wishes that were all legal, NOT that anything interpreted would supersede standing law.

    In contrast, the cases in Britain that were cited involve structural differences in access to law and different evidentiary standards, including excusing acts that would be illegal under the general laws of Britain. In my understanding, the British system seems to be a type of “binding arbitration” to which I am opposed in a wide variety of contexts, not only religious–it seems that it should be fundamentally impossible for a person to sign away their rights to access to the legal system, especially when the person in such a situation is often at a huge structural disadvantage (e.g., immense social pressure to get married), and may not fully comprehend what they are signing away. A perfect non-religious case would be the KBR employee who was raped and then the company tried to limit her legal rights under the “binding arbitration” clause which she signed when she was a young person in need of work and completely unaware of how much her employer and colleagues would abuse her.

    There may be cases where arbitration is preferable to all parties involved–if it is cheaper, faster, or easier than a lawsuit, whatever, but I think the existence of arbitration, religious or otherwise should never limit one’s right to real courts. Some safeguards might be:

    1) Arbitration by any entity other than the judicial branch is only valid when all parties agree to arbitration at the time of the dispute. Therefore, any prior inclination toward arbitration is null and void if any parties prefer at the time of the dispute to enter the legal system.

    2) Any contract that discriminates or provides differential compensation on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, or religious affiliation is null and void.

    3) Any parties, having submitted to arbitration and finding a ruling in opposition to the general law, has not relinquished their right to suit in a general court of law.

    4) Submitting to arbitration may never be used as a condition of employment, marriage, child custody, or investment.

    1. 9.1

      So all parties have to agree to arbitration (e.g. Sharia) in advance, if the finding goes against then they can still apply to civil courts, and the court mustn’t be prejudiced?

      But by agreeing to Sharia, point 2 of your post is already violated? Sharia courts discriminate against women by default don’t they?

      If it’s “just an agreement between parties”, can’t they behave any way they like as long as they don’t break any criminal laws?

      My personal opinion? One law for all, criminal or civil.


      1. LeftSidePositive

        So all parties have to agree to arbitration (e.g. Sharia) in advance, if the finding goes against then they can still apply to civil courts, and the court mustn’t be prejudiced?

        Basically, yeah.

        But by agreeing to Sharia, point 2 of your post is already violated? Sharia courts discriminate against women by default don’t they?

        It would depend on the terms of any particular contract, and whether or not a particular document contained any racist/sexist terms. Again, in this model the Sharia court wouldn’t be respected as a “court” so much as an assembly that can gather for religious reasons. People “voluntarily” (scare quotes for social conditioning/indoctrination) engage in activities that discriminate against themselves all the time, especially in religion, and may agree to those terms, but we as a society should state that someone can’t be held to a contract with those terms if they want out. The idea behind this is basically that someone within a certain culture is likely to believe it appropriate to go to their elders or what-have-you, and a sharia court would be the particular application of this within a Muslim community, and if they make any agreement within that community, we as a larger society need to make clear that we will NOT accept certain violations of our ethics in terms of enforcing these agreements.

        Where this gets really complicated is in ministerial exceptions, because of course in selecting your minister you do need to discriminate on the basis of religion, and maintain certain practices and standards, but this can be greatly abused in terms of throwing off a minister who has health needs or raises ethical objections to the church’s behavior, or over-identifying who is a minister and therefore exempt from various employment protections, and it gets very messy very quickly.

        If it’s “just an agreement between parties”, can’t they behave any way they like as long as they don’t break any criminal laws?

        Yes, exactly (and as long as they don’t violate any civil statutes or anything else). Basically the law wouldn’t actually change, just with MORE protections for those who (for whatever reason, economic, religious, or social) entertain extra-legal arbitration.

        My personal opinion? One law for all, criminal or civil.

        Absolutely. But this doesn’t mean that people won’t have their own reasons for wanting to go to arbitration (and in many cases needing recourse from that), and it also doesn’t mean that judges cannot look to world traditions and judicial systems for various insights, which judges frequently do rhetorically–those of course never actually carry any weight, so the Oklahoma standoff was just a pathetic exercise in fear-mongering (by, I might add, people who are all too happy to enforce their own woman-hating religious law, and who are not upset by human rights violations so much as having “the other” gain ground).

  10. 10
    Ed Brayton

    Much of this is based on a significant misunderstanding of the differences between the British legal system and the American one. The ACLU is right to oppose this law, and that has nothing to do with supporting sharia or not supporting the equal rights of women. One can be opposed to the application of sharia, as I certainly am, and still not be in favor of every crackpot idea for stopping it. I will explain all of this in a post on my own blog in the next couple days.

    1. 10.1
      Anne Marie

      I understand this. But the issue is a political one, ACLU doesn’t have to support this injunction – it could speak out against sharia but it doesn’t.

      I also don’t support any crackpot idea and I can’t tell you how much I resent being in the same position as right-wing conservatives. I am a liberal, a socialist, a lefty (life-long) and now I find myself on the same side as Christian fundamentalists. But I have to be consistent in my beliefs; if I oppose Christian fundamentalist misogyny then I won’t (like so many on the left) turn a blind eye to Islamic misogyny and pretend it is somehow different.

      1. Ed Brayton

        Anne Marie, I do understand that you are not like the American right wing in this regard, which is why my disagreement with you here will be worded very differently than it would be if I was responding to someone like Pam Geller. But this bill is supported solely by those people for a reason. It’s a very bad bill. And it simply isn’t true that opposition to the bill is inconsistent with support for equal rights for women or anyone else. I dare say that no other group in America has been more outspoken for women’s equality and more opposed to the imposition of religious law than the ACLU. That alone should, I think, lead you to consider whether the question you ask is a fair one and whether you are excluding a far more reasonable position than the one you assume them to be taking. I’ve just finished writing up my response to this, and you will see it on my blog tomorrow morning. I’ll pass along a link in the comments here when it goes up.

        1. Maryam Namazie

          Ed. This is our usual problem. It is often the very people who are so pro-women’s rights, gay rights, and you name it, that will support Sharia law out of a misguided notion that opposing it is racist. It’s not. Yes the far-Right will raise the issue from its disgusting viewpoint that is not very different from the Islamists but progressives have to raise it from theirs. I can be against war on Iran and the Islamic regime of Iran at the same time. There are people who say opposing the regime supports US-led militarism. That’s not to case. We have to be able to oppose Sharia law without all the ifs and buts.

        2. Anne Marie

          Hi Ed, the problem for me, as I said, is political. Have the ACLU ever criticised sharia? I read they’ve got a report about the mythical threat of sharia. Sharia isn’t a mythical threat as the examples in my letter show. We are not making this up, this is what is happening in the UK and it is happening because our left-wing groups also continually defend sharia with no acknowledgement whatsoever of the danger it presents. In their report, they say “state legislators are considering proposed laws that would limit the ability of courts to adjudicate lawsuits brought by Muslims”. This is just not true, we are not saying that Muslims shouldn’t have access to the courts as this suggests, just that they shouldn’t have sharia law. This is entirely disingenous and misrepresents the battle we are fighting.

          I see the same thing happening in America as happened here. The left refuses to acknowledge the discrimination and misogyny of sharia and are presenting the battle FOR sharia as a battle FOR human rights, when the opposite is true. The battle AGAINST sharia is the true battle for human rights as countries around the world are showing. Sharia is on the rise all over the world and where it shows up, human rights are diminished almost immediately. There is a global political battle against sharia, and in the United States, I believe the ACLU is on the wrong side. I am not arguing that people should not be allowed to live according to their beliefs, but if we accept sharia in to the law, we are accepting and legitimising a system which is directly responsible for the most abhorrent abuses seen today.

          What the ACLU does and says matters. It presents sharia as harmless thereby giving its followers a warm fuzzy glow and preventing them being in the uncomfortable position of opposing a minority group.

          Sharia has got to be tackled and it is precisely the groups that we depend on to defend human rights that are so often coming to its defence. We have seen in the UK what this leads to.

          1. strange gods before me ॐ

            I read they’ve got a report about the mythical threat of sharia.


          2. mrianabrinson

            I assume once Sharia gets into the system, it is almost impossible to get it out of the system as it continues to grow within the system. Is that assumption unfounded or is it an accurate observation?

          3. Ed Brayton

            Anne Marie wrote:

            Have the ACLU ever criticised sharia?

            The ACLU exists only to fight legal battles, and only in the United States. They did object in the one American case you cite, which was immediately overturned by the appeals court.

            I read they’ve got a report about the mythical threat of sharia. Sharia isn’t a mythical threat as the examples in my letter show. We are not making this up, this is what is happening in the UK and it is happening because our left-wing groups also continually defend sharia with no acknowledgement whatsoever of the danger it presents.

            They have a report about the mythical threat of sharia in the United States. That report is accurate. You can find exactly one example of a low-level family judge making a pro-sharia ruling in this country and he was promptly reversed, as he should have been. On the other hand, I can show you dozens of cases where the courts have done the exact opposite, ruling that one party’s attempt to invoke Islamic law was unconstitutional. And that was the result in the only case you can cite as well.

            In their report, they say “state legislators are considering proposed laws that would limit the ability of courts to adjudicate lawsuits brought by Muslims”. This is just not true, we are not saying that Muslims shouldn’t have access to the courts as this suggests, just that they shouldn’t have sharia law.

            And as I will explain in my post tomorrow morning, they are right. There are, in fact, many types of cases that can be brought in court where considering the requirements of Islamic law is actually appropriate and necessary. None of those involve any of the kinds of vile elements of sharia law that you — and I — quite rightly oppose. But this law would, in fact, prevent access to the courts for entirely legitimate reasons in many cases. It would also forbid the use of international law, the use of which is also appropriate and legitimate in many cases.

            I see the same thing happening in America as happened here.

            But you have presented no evidence for that conclusion. Because there is none.

            The left refuses to acknowledge the discrimination and misogyny of sharia and are presenting the battle FOR sharia as a battle FOR human rights, when the opposite is true. The battle AGAINST sharia is the true battle for human rights as countries around the world are showing. Sharia is on the rise all over the world and where it shows up, human rights are diminished almost immediately.

            I think you’re wrong to claim that the left refuses to acknowledge that the imposition of sharia law is a bad thing. I am on the left and I not only acknowledge it, I write about it frequently. No one is arguing that imposing many elements of the sharia law (remember, there is not a single canon of sharia, there are dozens of different versions of it) is not a very bad thing; it certainly is. The argument, rather, is that none of those terrible elements can be imposed in the United States. They can’t. It is already illegal in the United States to impose sharia law in any case where it would deprive an individual of their rights; I can literally show you dozens of such cases (in fact, every single case cited by the anti-sharia right in this country reached exactly that conclusion). But the Oklahoma law goes much further than that, prohibiting any consideration of either Islamic or international law, even when the use of such law is necessary in the case and deprives no one of their rights (indeed, even when both parties agree to be bound by it and it involves such mundane things as how to divide up a will).

  11. 11
    A Hermit

    No argument from me about the deplorable, misogynistic nature of Sharia law, but the ACLU has it right here. Part of the objection to the Oklahoma provision (which would have also forbidden the courts from considering international law!) was that it singled out Sharia law and said nothing about Talmudic or Biblical or other religious laws. It’s that singling out of ONE religious tradition which is the problem.

    1. 11.1
      Maryam Namazie

      I think it is racist that there are people singling out the church for paedophilia. Or at least so goes this logic. Next time campaigners don’t mention Islam and paedophilia I will make sure to raise the singling out effect and what aboutery mentioned here. Oh sorry, is that double standard only for Islam? Yes I thought so.

      1. LeftSidePositive

        I honestly don’t understand what parallels you are even trying to draw in this comment. The Oklahoma amendment case was NOT about prohibiting sexist, pro-abuse rulings or indeed the prohibition of religious law in general, but it very definitively singled out Sharia law in a way that says “They’re The Other! Not us! They’re bad! We shun them!” and that kind of bigotry is unacceptable to be enshrined in a state constitution. If one were to make some general legal affirmation of the rights of people not to be abused by religious dogma in legal proceedings, then that might be fair, but to ignore all the other religions that have very, very similar textual bases for misogyny and various injustices and only denounce one is an exercise in in-group/out-group tribalism, which is really inappropriate. The fact that they single out one particular group among many who traditionally or currently abuse women and minorities makes it a form of bigotry in that it differentially judges and punishes, which means the animus is against the culture, NOT the actually-objectionable abusive system.

        As I’m trying to understand your pedophilia analogy–and to be honest I can’t quite make heads or tails of it–it would be similar to a hypothetical case where a state government were trying to address church pedophilia, and tried to pass a law saying “The Catholic Church must take actions X, Y, and Z in response to claims of pedophilia.” I’m not entirely clear on all the nuances, but I imagine this may even be considered a bill of attainder and therefore unconstitutional. Rather, a state should say, “Any organization, whether cultural, academic, athletic, or religious in nature, or otherwise affiliated with maintenance of continued membership of a number of persons, must take actions X, Y, and Z in response to claims of pedophilia.” This not only avoids bigotry (i.e., while it is true that the Catholic Church DOES cover up sex abuse, they are far from the only ones who do so **cough**Boy Scouts**cough**Penn State**, and therefore the first wording is differentially judgmental) but also provides more attention to all the types of organizations where this sort of thing might arise.

      2. A Hermit

        For the record I’m a great admirer of yours, and I agree with the goal of keeping religion out of the courts. I just don’t think this particular bill was a good way of doing it.

        I’ll defer to Ed Brayton on this one; he’s made all the points I would (and done a better job of it.)

      3. Ace of Sevens

        If some state tried to pass a law that Catholic priests get a double sentence for child molestation, that would be illegal as well for similar reasons.

      4. Adam Lee

        I think it is racist that there are people singling out the church for paedophilia. Or at least so goes this logic. Next time campaigners don’t mention Islam and paedophilia I will make sure to raise the singling out effect and what aboutery mentioned here.

        This is the wrong comparison, I’m afraid. Pedophilia is illegal and should be punished, without a doubt. But a law which declared that pedophilia was a crime only when committed by a Catholic priest would plainly violate the equal protection guarantee of the Constitution.

        The law should never treat you differently depending on whether or not you belong to a particular religion, and the same is true here. Either ban the use of all religious laws, or none of them.

        1. Maryam Namazie

          Isn’t marital rape, domestic violence, deeming women worth half that of men, putting child welfare last also illegal? That is what sharia law courts are doing.
          And even if you manage to ban one form of religious law, it helps to ban all of them. Canada is a good case in point. THe anti-sharia campaign managed to get the Ontario province to defend one secular law for all and no religious laws. You have to start somewhere. The you can’t speak of sharia unless you do such and such is a prescription for inaction.

          1. IslandBrewer


            I’m afraid your response entirely misses the point.

            In the US, one guiding principle of law is that no law may be directed at a specific individual or group by name. A law may be intended specifically to curb one groups actions, but it would have to be couched in terms that apply to everyone equally.

            As anyone who has read (sorry, read AND UNDERSTOOD) Ed’s response by now should know, Sharia Law, international law, French civil statutes, and the Code of Hammurabi are all references to which US courts may refer to shape interpretations of various documents, contracts, and agreements, at their discretion. (Forgive the caps for a moment.) THIS IS NOT THE SAME AS INSTITUTING SHARIA LAW. THIS DOES NOT SET UP SHARIA COURTS. SHARIA COURTS COULD NOT BE SET UP IN THE US WITH ANY FORCE OF LAW.

            By naming one (or two) specific groups of laws in particular, and saying that courts are banned from using this one reference, the Oklahoma statute violates this principle.

            In other words, the Oklahoma statute might attempt to say that courts “may not refer to any body of jurisprudence which, with regard to your favorite pet subject, violates the Constitutions of United States and the State of Oklahoma”. It didn’t do that.

            Do you get it? We’re not talking about the validity of an argument, we’re talking about whether a statute violates the US Constitution.

          2. Adam Lee

            Isn’t marital rape, domestic violence, deeming women worth half that of men, putting child welfare last also illegal? That is what sharia law courts are doing.

            Yes! Those things are all illegal and should be illegal. But that’s precisely the point: they’re already illegal, no matter what religion you belong to. This amendment served no purpose, other than expressing the voters’ view that Muslims should be treated as political outcasts and outsiders.

            In my understanding, Maryam, you represent a group called One Law for All, and that’s the principle I want to see upheld in society. I believe that the same law should apply to everyone. But that goes in both directions: Muslims shouldn’t have more rights than anyone else, such as the right to have their own private religious courts settle disputes over secular matters. But they also shouldn’t have fewer rights than anyone else, and that’s the result which this amendment was clearly intended to bring about.

            Let me sketch out one imaginable consequence if the Oklahoma amendment were upheld. Let’s say a mosque wants to hire a new imam, and an evangelical Christian walks in and applies for the job, stating his intent to preach that Islam is a false religion whose practitioners are doomed to hellfire unless they repent and embrace Jesus. Let’s say he was rejected, as he undoubtedly would be. He could then sue the mosque, claiming that their refusal to hire him was impermissible discrimination, and because the courts aren’t allowed to consider sharia law in their decisions, they would literally be unable to rule that the mosque was allowed to refuse him because his beliefs were incompatible with theirs.

            In short, the amendment would have taken away the ministerial exception that allows religious congregations to choose clergy who will preach their own beliefs. But it would only have taken this privilege away for Muslims, not for members of any other religion. That isn’t a permissible objective under the Constitution, and that’s why this ruling was the right one.

          3. Maryam Namazie

            Last comment on this as I am quickly getting bored with this. The Church uses canon law to evade being held accountable in civil law and push its paedophilia under the carpet. The same applies to sharia courts. It exists because of its different standards. Otherwise they would all just use civil law. Equality is for people not religions and religious courts. So the argument that there are 5000 Church of England schools so we need 5000 Islamic schools doesn’t wash with me. No Islamic schools and get rid of the COE schools too please. Both can’t be done. Well let’s start with the Islamic schools. There’s a difference anyway to some extent given that we are living under an Islamic inquisition making the sharia courts much more important to address. Yes we need to be rid of all of them but for those arguing that we can’t do it unless we do it all, are really arguing to keep sharia. And actually if you are really concerned about equality, getting rid of religious laws will to more to help the cause of equality than keeping sharia courts.

          4. Ed Brayton

            Maryam Namazie wrote:

            Isn’t marital rape, domestic violence, deeming women worth half that of men, putting child welfare last also illegal? That is what sharia law courts are doing.

            But not in the United States. There is no such thing here. And the ACLU deals only with American law.

    2. 11.2

      If you really want that, like Maryam said, we can potentially accuse all three religions of the same things, including child sexual abuse, which is not exclusive to the Catholic Church either. You can find it in virtually almost any Xian church and it is enabled, if not even perpetrated by said clergy.

  12. 12

    I couldn’t help myself. I just visited the ALCU site and sent them a whole e-mail about it…


    Really, do these people just delve into things without looking into them? Or have they looked into and honestly think it’s okay?

    Sometimes I think the word liberal has caught a bad rap from people like this… kind of like the unfortunate “feminism”.

    It seems like “liberal” to politicians means allowing other people discrimination just because it’s a part of their culture.

    1. 12.1

      I use to support the ACLU until they started doing stupid things like this. I haven’t been part of their thing now for at least 4 or 5 years now, because they are doing things like this and without actually doing any research on the matter.

    2. 12.2
      strange gods before me ॐ

      Really, do these people just delve into things without looking into them?

      That’s what I’m wondering about you. Doesn’t it give you pause to notice that you find yourself not only in opposition to the ACLU, but also to Americans United for Separation of Church and State?

      Doesn’t that make you want to actually read what they said about this case to see if you understand all that’s going on here?

      Or maybe read what they’ve said about sharia in general?

      As the ACLU has documented elsewhere, there has been a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment and attacks on Muslim communities in the U.S. in the last few years. Most recently, multiple states have proposed legislation banning the consideration of Islamic or “Sharia” law by state courts. Anti-Muslim groups claim these measures are necessary because the courts are being “overtaken” by Sharia law. Specifically, Sharia-ban proponents have pointed to a number of court cases involving Islamic religious doctrine or Muslim parties that supposedly evince a “Sharia threat” to our judicial system.

      A new report by the ACLU, Nothing to Fear: Debunking the Mythical “Sharia Threat” to Our Judicial System, examines, in detail, the cases repeatedly cited by anti-Muslim groups as evidence of the alleged “Sharia threat” to our judicial system. The report concludes that these cases do not stand for the principles that anti-Muslim groups claim. Rather, these court cases deal with routine matters, such as religious freedom claims and contractual disputes. Courts treat these lawsuits in the same way that they deal with similar claims brought by people of other faiths. So instead of the harbingers of doom that anti-Muslim groups make them out to be, these cases illustrate that our judicial system is alive and well, and operating as it should.

      As we argue in our case challenging an Oklahoma Sharia law ban, prohibiting courts from considering Islamic law serves only one purpose: to bar Muslims from having the same rights and access to the courts as any other religious individuals. For example, if Sharia law were completely banned from consideration, it would be nearly impossible for Muslims to bring First Amendment claims when their religious rights are violated because the court could be barred from referring to a Muslim plaintiff’s religious beliefs. This result would be patently unfair because it would single out Muslims for disfavorable treatment in our judicial system and render them second-class citizens.

      People of all faiths routinely turn to our legal system to protect the right to practice their religion. The Supreme Court has, for example, upheld the right of a Christian to receive unemployment benefits after refusing to work on Sundays in violation of his religious beliefs; and the right of Amish parents to withhold their children from compulsory education on religious grounds. Muslims should not be denied the same opportunities in court, and lawsuits that happen to involve their Islamic faith do not present a “threat” to our legal system any more than claims asserted by Christians, Jews, or other religious individuals.

  13. 13

    @Ed Brayton, I certainly hope you are right, because the last thing I want is for any of us in the U.S. to end up with problems such as the U.K. and other countries in Europe are having. However, even I fear that could be happening right under our noses.

    1. 13.1
      Ed Brayton

      It’s the last thing I want too, and that is one of the points I am making. It is simply false and, frankly, slanderous (ethically, not legally) to claim that if you don’t support this law then you must be against equal rights and for sharia law. The other point is that while the imposition of sharia law is absolutely something to fear, that doesn’t mean such fear is realistic. Fear based on evidence is one thing, but not only is there no evidence of this happening in the US, there’s a lot of evidence against it. There are dozens and dozens of court rulings that have declared the imposition of the worst elements of sharia law to be unconstitutional. What is happening in the UK is not happening in the US and there is no mechanism by which it could happen.

      1. Anne Marie

        Ed, as I’ve said, I am talking about politics and the wider political debate. And yes, I do see the same thing happening in the US – in that major organisations of the left (including the Democrats) are not speaking out against the human rights abuses of sharia and are instead leaving this discussion to be hijacked by the right. Prescisely why Christian Conservatives are the ones going after sharia, and not our human rights defenders. The result: the rise of the power of the right, and the rise of radical Islam. I will accept any correction on this, but from what I have seen, the only position the ACLU seems to take on sharia is one of support without criticism. That is what our left did and that is why the Islamists felt confident enough to open their sharia tribunals, and why we see a rise in the far-right portraying themselves as defenders of women (which is of course a political mess).

        1. Ed Brayton

          The problem, Anne Marie, is that you have presented no evidence whatsoever that reactionary Islam (I hate calling them radical, since radicalism has a positive history as a political label, in my view) is on the rise in the United States. It’s a big problem in Europe and the UK, I agree, but it isn’t in America. Sharia law is not being imposed here and there isn’t even a vaguely plausible mechanism by which it ever could be. That’s why every single example you could come up with is from outside the United States. In this country, the anti-sharia drive is nothing more than an attempt to strip Muslims of their right to worship freely. The same people in America who falsely claim that sharia law is “creeping” into the legal system are also in favor of prohibiting Muslim immigration and banning the building of mosques, and they bluntly argue that Islam isn’t really a religion so it doesn’t deserve First Amendment protection. So when all of the bad effects of sharia are already illegal and continually rebutted by the courts in this country, the policies being advocated are discriminatory and unjust, and the claims of the imminent imposition of sharia law are so farfetched as to be delusional, I think the ACLU’s position is exactly the correct one. The reality here simply isn’t the same as the reality in your country, no matter how much you may want to pretend that it is.

          1. Maryam Namazie

            I think the problem is Ed that you don’t see Islamism as a global movement. It’s considered a big problem here only now – and not eve – because we have progressive forces like ourselves highlighting it. Otherwise it has been business as usual for the Islamists especially since the post-modernist left is so busy cosying up to the forces of reaction. We need progressives there in the states that can take up Islamism and the far-Right at the same time.

          2. Ed Brayton

            Maryam wrote:

            I think the problem is Ed that you don’t see Islamism as a global movement. It’s considered a big problem here only now – and not eve – because we have progressive forces like ourselves highlighting it. Otherwise it has been business as usual for the Islamists especially since the post-modernist left is so busy cosying up to the forces of reaction. We need progressives there in the states that can take up Islamism and the far-Right at the same time.

            No, that is not the problem at all. Yes, reactionary Islam is a serious problem in many countries around the world. No one disputes that. But it does not logically follow that therefore we must support every tactic anyone comes up with as long as it claims to be anti-sharia. The issue here is not whether sharia is good or bad, the issue is whether this particular law is good or bad and you keep focusing on the latter question — which we all agree on — rather than on the actual substantive issue that this letter is intended to address. I am as opposed to the post-modernist left as you are and have written against them many times, but they are limited to a few dark corners of academia here and have no influence at all. The ACLU is certainly not a post-modernist organization, for crying out loud. And while I’ve criticized the ACLU over the years for several things, this is not one where they deserve any criticism.

            Unfortunately, this conversation is going nowhere. You keep ignoring the specific evidence and arguments I’ve offered, choosing to just keep repeating “but sharia law is bad.” Of course it’s bad. No one disputes that. As a prominent atheist, feminist and gay rights activist, do you really think that I’m not staunchly opposed to having sharia law implemented in this country? The result would be the end of freedom and equality. And I write critically about the barbarism that goes on where sharia has taken root all the time. But again, it simply does not logically follow that just because sharia law is a terrible thing that we must be in favor of this law, and it is both illogical and insulting for you to insist that if someone is against this particular law, which is a bad idea for all of the reasons I have offered (reasons that are so far un-addressed, much less refuted), then they must not support equal rights for women.

            We are all anti-sharia, but there are a lot of policy suggestions that travel under the anti-sharia bandwagon that we should be opposed to. In the US, as I said, the same people pushing this law are also arguing that Muslims should not be allowed to come into the country at all, that they should not be allowed to build mosques or even to expand the ones that already exist, and often that the First Amendment does not apply to Muslims at all. Do you think that those of us who opposed those ideas just don’t care about equal rights or that those two things somehow conflict? We can, and should, fight against the ideology of reactionary Islam without sacrificing religious freedom and equality (yes, the principle that all religions are equally treated under the law is also a keystone principle, or should be, for progressives).

            It doesn’t matter how strongly we agree that sharia law is bad, this particular law is a very bad idea. It sacrifices entirely legitimate uses of both Islamic law and law from other countries, both of which are necessary and valid in a specific subset of cases, in the name of stopping a problem that simply does not exist. The ACLU is right to oppose it. I am right to oppose it. I have explained why in detail. Continuing to repeat “sharia law is bad” is not responsive to those arguments at all.

          3. IslandBrewer

            “I think the problem is Ed that you don’t see Islamism as a global movement.”


            Your post, and the ACLU’s opposition to the Oklahoma amendment, ISN’T about Islamism as a global movement! It’s about a cherished principle of American law that protects me, and Ed, and Freethought blogs from religious nutcases JUST LIKE Islamists.

            It can be counterintuitive for some, and even many Americans don’t get it, but the equal protection clause is one of the most important aspects of keeping the US secular (as much as we can, rather), and the equal protection law has to be applied consistently, or it’s useless.

  14. 14
    strange gods before me ॐ


    The court concluded that by singling out Islam for unfavorable treatment in state courts, the law likely violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The court rejected the state’s argument that the constitutional amendment was necessary to protect against improper application of Sharia law, explaining:

    “Appellants do not identify any actual problem the challenged amendment seeks to solve. Indeed, they admitted . . . that they did not know of even a single instance where an Oklahoma court had applied Sharia law or used the legal precepts of other nations or cultures, let alone that such applications or uses had resulted in concrete problems in Oklahoma.”

  15. 15

    I get the impression that in the UK, this is an issue with how arbitration is handled by the court system. While there is plenty of abuse of arbitration in the United States, I understand that there are limits to how arbitration can be used (it cannot, for example, contravene existing law).

    If that is the case – then what is wrong with the ACLU’s stance? Does that affect your position at all?

  16. 16
    Ed Brayton

    As promised, here is my response to this letter.

  17. 17
    Ace of Sevens

    One of the important points here is that in the US, you can’t use arbitration to decide child custody matters (because minors can’t legally agree to arbitration) and this would never come up in a criminal court except perhaps a hypothetical situation where property was allegedly stolen in a Sharia state, then smuggle into the US, in which case, the courts would have to rule on who had legal possession before in came into the US. Arbiters also can’t make decisions contrary to public policy, so they can’t ignore principles like equal protection. Any decision like those you cite would be illegal without this law in the US. The law is unconstitutional because it regulates interstate commerce, which states can’t do, steps on treaties, which states also can’t do and singles out a religion for special regulation others are exempt from, which no level of US government can do.

  18. 18

    It is always helpful to have a reminder that someone you generally agree with can be so totally off-base on an issue. The dangers of Sharia law, especially toward women, are well documented, and I think the One Law for All campaign does good work, but this letter struck me as very strange.

    Citing examples from British case law as evidence in an American lawsuit is either lazy, if you didn’t try to understand the differences between British and American law or find actual, concrete examples from America, or dishonest, if you didn’t care. The threat at the end smacks of an attempt at bullying. And the attempt at justification in the comments by mentioning the New Jersey case? Not mentioning that the ruling was overturned on appeal because it was contrary to existing law is totally dishonest.

    I really am disappointed that someone who does such important work would stoop to this level.

  19. 19
    Adam Lee

    As others have pointed out, the ACLU’s opposition to this law in no way implies support for the noxious and misogynist principles of sharia. The U.S. already has an inviolable shield against sharia or any other kind of religious dogma being written into state law – namely, the First Amendment – and as such, the Oklahoma amendment was totally unnecessary. Even its backers admitted in court that they couldn’t come up with a single example of harm caused by sharia law being applied anywhere in Oklahoma.

    Rather, the Oklahoma amendment was clearly and specifically intended to discriminate against Muslims, by saddling them with disadvantages shared by members of no other religion in ordinary matters of legal contract. (For example, pretty much any provision of a Muslim’s will could be challenged in court due to this amendment. Arguably, it could also invalidate the ability of an imam to perform a marriage, make it illegal to open a halal restaurant, or cause any of a million other consequences the wingnuts would surely come up with.)

    The amendment didn’t say that no religious law could be used to decide any court case in Oklahoma, which would quite likely have been constitutional (even if it would mandate a far stricter separation of church and state than even most atheists would support!). Instead, it singled out Muslims for exclusion and disfavored treatment. That plainly violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law, and the court did the right thing in striking it down.

  20. 20


    You’re an Arab queer? Hahahahaa. Dirty little Mudslime, Arab taazi rat, faggot. That’s a real fucking laugh! Bahrain needs to get GLASSED.

    1. 20.1
      Ace of Sevens

      Pro tip: trolling is supposed to be subtle.

  21. 21
    Anne Marie

    Last post….

    Its ‘about’ section says “The ACLU is our nation’s guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country.” If that’s true, then it should support a ban on the use of sharia law – especially family law.

    It is our position that sharia family and criminal law should be banned from both courts and arbitration. If that seems draconian to you, fine that is your position. We hold a different view and the reasons I stated in the letter.

    “Citing examples from British case law as evidence in an American lawsuit” – I’m not, I’m giving examples of sharia “arbitration” in Britain.

    ‘It couldn’t happen in America because that would be unlawful here’ – some of it is unlawful in Britain too but that doesn’t seem to stop it. And yes the US courts would overturn many decisions, as they would in the UK, but they don’t always get to the courts to be overturned, but begin and end with sharia. Furthermore, Americans use arbitration, including in family law, so what’s to prevent sharia family law arbitration?

    ‘It’s a violation of his first amendment rights’ – only if the first amendment gives him the right to sharia law. It is not disfavouring one religion over another, it is prohibiting certain laws from being practiced or applied and rightly so because some of these laws are discriminatory towards women and violate their rights. Freedom of religion should not provide a right to religious laws that violate the rights of others.

    It is not dishonest to refer to the German or New Jersey case,they are examples of what can (and does) happen when freedom of religion clashes with the rights of women. And are relevant.

    Muneer Awad, the plaintiff, has argued that the ban on Islamic law would likely affect every aspect of his life as well as the execution of his will after his death. But there is no need for it to be interpreted this way. Nor does it need to be interpreted to “prohibit Oklahoma courts from respecting international commitments, honoring global business agreements, and recognizing international adoptions and marriages conducted overseas”.

    He also said:

    “Sharia does not stand for beheadings, stoning, amputations, or rape, as has been suggested”. Yes it does, in its criminal code. “Sharia is not the source of gender inequality or domestic abuse, as was alleged”. Yes it is, in its family code.

    And “A ruling in favor of CAIR and the ACLU can very well stop legislators in their tracks, before promoting an anti-Sharia or foreign law bill in the future.” – Precisely, and this is one of the things that worries me.

    The ACLU history on sharia appears to be one of consistent support, and please don’t say they are not political – read their ‘about’ section again. In searching for sharia on their website I find that a large number of articles paint a picture of it as harmless and those who oppose it as bigots. They have also mixed race issues in nicely as well.

    The letter asks questions on the ACLU position with regard to family law rights for women and freedom of religion. Perhaps some reassurance would be welcome that they do oppose sharia family and criminal law and they would oppose any attempts to incorporate them in to the legal system, whether in courts or alternative dispute resolution.

    “The same people pushing this law are also arguing that Muslims should not be allowed to come into the country at all, that they should not be allowed to build mosques or even to expand the ones that already exist.” They are the far-right that must be opposed as unequivocally as the Islamists are. Islamism is also a far-right movement. In fact, it is crucial to oppose sharia from a rights perspective in order to push back the far-right and its inhuman agenda. Here is our report on the far-Right including Stop Islamisation of America:

    1. 21.1

      When I read the letter, I originally gave you the benefit of the doubt, because sharia is such an evil, and I am not overly familiar with British law. Now, however, I am starting to question your motives.

      “Citing examples from British case law as evidence in an American lawsuit” – I’m not, I’m giving examples of sharia “arbitration” in Britain.

      Maybe case law was the wrong term to use, but you are playing with semantics here. My point was that there are significant differences between the American and British laws applicable to these instances, and you have made no attempt to even acknowledge that point.

      It is not dishonest to refer to the German or New Jersey case,they are examples of what can (and does) happen when freedom of religion clashes with the rights of women. And are relevant.

      I never said simply referring to the New Jersey case was dishonest. What I said was: “Not mentioning that the ruling was overturned on appeal because it was contrary to existing law is totally dishonest.” And how would anti-sharia laws prevent a judge from issuing an erroneous ruling? They wouldn’t. That is why we have appeals courts.

      Even with what I consider to be outright dishonesty in the quotes I noted above, the part that really makes me question your motives here is this:

      …some of it is unlawful in Britain too but that doesn’t seem to stop it. And yes the US courts would overturn many decisions, as they would in the UK, but they don’t always get to the courts to be overturned, but begin and end with sharia.

      So what is your proposed solution? Government imposed bans on sharia in people’s private lives? Having the government inspect every private agreement and contract to make sure there are no references to sharia? Maybe you are fine with the government intruding on and legislating your private life, but I am not. And when you start talking about legislating a person’s private life, that is when I start wondering if you are just a bigot.

      1. Anne Marie Waters

        bigj, please read whay I say. I can’t debate with you otherwise. You argue that American law is different. Give me a break… you don’t have arbitation? We have arbitration and sharia works under it. Please demonstrate the difference between British and American law that makes it so impossible for sharia family law to be practiced under arbitration laws in the US. Show me, I’ll accept it, I just haven’t been shown this.

        The German and New Jersey cases, as I said repeatedly, act as examples as to what happens when ‘freedom of religion’ meets the rights of a woman. It doesn’t matter to my argument that the case was overturned, because I am using them as an example of what can happen when religion clashes with the rights of women (and I live in the UK and see it all the time with sharia – do you not think ‘freedom of religion’ is the argumenet we’re faced with all the time?)…. And by the way, why should Muslim women have to appeal to a higher court for justice? They should get justice without appeal surely?

        “Having the government inspect every private agreement and contract to make sure there are no references to sharia?” Why should I not see this argument as alarmism? Many on your side state that the arguments against sharia are by alarmist right-wing bigots – what makes your interpretation non-alarmist? I don’t support a Government’s right to interfere with your private agreements, provided those agreements don’t breach the fundamental human rights of other people. Don’t you get it? Do what you want, just don’t think doing what you want entitles you to trample on women.

        You ask what my proposal is – ban the use or application of sharia rules and priniciples in ANY question of family or criminal law.

        You may think this draconian. That is your right.

        1. bigj

          The parts of the US Constitution pertinent to this discussion are the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Establishment Clause prevents any religious law from superseding secular law. The Equal Protection Clause prevents Muslim women from being denied the protection of secular law, as well as preventing laws that target specific groups, such as anti-sharia laws. This essentially means that the United States already has law banning sharia from being considered in legal proceedings. As far as arbitration goes, my understanding is something like using sharia would have to be agreed upon by both parties. Hence my question about the government inspecting private agreements. Though the final decision must be validated by the court to be enforceable and can also be vacated by a court if it conflicts with the law.

          The reason I have not mentioned the case from Germany is that I am not at all familiar with either the case, or German law. If your analysis is accurate, I absolutely share your outrage and revulsion at that decision. I did talk about the New Jersey case, however, because I remember it, and, being from New Jersey, am at least somewhat familiar with the relevant state and federal laws. The original decision was idiotic, and, as I noted, struck down by an appeals court for being at odds with existing law. Yes, in a perfect world, judges would get it right the first time, every time. But they don’t, and that is why we have an appeals process. How would passing new laws about this change that fact? That would be like passing a law that makes shooting someone to death illegal, when that specific crime is already covered under murder. Yes, sharia as it is generally practiced is barbaric, toward a number of groups, especially women. Referring to that case in this context, however, is at best irrelevant and at worst dishonest, for the reasons I stated above.

          I did not mean to sound alarmist at the end of my post, but how should this quote be interpreted:

          …some of it is unlawful in Britain too but that doesn’t seem to stop it. And yes the US courts would overturn many decisions, as they would in the UK, but they don’t always get to the courts to be overturned, but begin and end with sharia.

          This is what I was asking for your proposed solution for. If the problem does not make it to court, how would a such a ban be enforced? without what I would consider to be undue government involvement in the lives of the people affected by such a ban. The best you can really do, beyond the safeguards already in place in the Constitution, would be to try to make sure women are educated on their legal rights, and have the opportunity to demand those rights.

      2. Anne Marie Waters

        “sharia would have to be agreed upon by both parties”


        “The Equal Protection Clause prevents Muslim women from being denied the protection of secular law”. British law provides the same protections, but it hasn’t stopped sharia. Am I speaking to myself here?

        “make sure women are educated on their legal rights” – we’re trying. But we can try to both educate women and shut down sharia courts, its not an either/or situation.

        Let me make this clear for the last time – the law doesn’t allow sharia in Britain either, but that hasn’t stopped it. The only thing that will stop it is political will- this isn’t exactly forthcoming from the ACLU (the nation’s self-declared “guardian of liberty”), which is the entire sodding point.

        But apparently, the arguement goes, America’s different – nothing could possibly go wrong.

        Ok, Gotchya.

  1. 22
    Why the ACLU Opposed the Oklahoma Law | Dispatches from the Culture Wars

    [...] Namazie, who I respect greatly for her tireless work on behalf of equal rights around the world, republishes a letter from the British group One Law for All to the ACLU, criticizing them for opposing the anti-sharia [...]

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