Sharia in a First Amendment Society

Would the constitution framers have countenanced the erection of a statue of King George on the site of the Boston Massacre?

Steve Chapman, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, has a piece in Human Events criticizing Sarah Palin for her opposition to building a mosque at Ground Zero. His argument seems to be that in guaranteeing freedom of religion, the First Amendment guarantees that all religions be treated identically. Therefore, argues Chapman, if you would allow evangelical Christians to build a church near Ground Zero, you must allow Muslims to build their mosque and community center—otherwise you are guilty of employing a double standard.

But the double standard only applies if you are dealing with two equivalent individuals or groups. You’re not guilty of using a double standard if you give the keys to your car to your sixteen-year-old child but not to your six-year-old. Likewise, if you support your own children but refuse to support your neighbor’s children, no one will accuse you of employing a double standard. In both these examples the two groupings are similar in many ways (your children, your neighbor’s children) but are different in crucial ways.

One way to avoid the double standard in regard to Islam is simply to declare that Islam is a political ideology, not a religion, and therefore not protected by the freedom of religion clause. For example, Geert Wilders has claimed that “Islam is not a religion” but a totalitarian ideology and therefore “the right to religious freedom should not apply to Islam.” Moorthy Muthuswamy takes a similar tack in his book Defeating Political Islam. Islam, he maintains, is basically a political ideology. Likewise, Gregory Davis, the author of Religion of Peace? Islam’s War Against the World argues that we need to reorient our thinking about Islam: “The first task of the West must be to reclassify Islam as a political system with religious aspects, rather than a religion with political aspects.” “How do you solve a problem like Sharia?” asks Mark Steyn in a playful paraphrase of the Broadway song. The simple answer is you reclassify Islam as a political organization.

But for hundreds of years Islam has been thought of as a religion—one of the world’s “great” religions according to most history books. While it’s undoubtedly true that many Islamic leaders cynically use religion as a cover for political ambitions, it’s also certainly true that many Muslims feel that in practicing Islam they are being obedient to God’s commands. For this and a number of other reasons it would be difficult to make a case that Islam is not in any sense a religion.

If Islam is treated as a religion and is therefore protected by the free exercise clause, what then? The First Amendment has never been interpreted to give people the freedom to do whatever they want just as long as they do it in the name of religion. In the late 19th century, Congress outlawed the Mormon practice of polygamy, and when the Mormons appealed the law, the Supreme Court upheld the ban. The Congress did, in fact, prohibit the free exercise of one particular Mormon custom. Congress would certainly also have the power to prohibit the free exercise of many Islamic customs, laws, and obligations that are in flagrant violation of federal laws. Crimes such as polygamy, underage marriages, stoning and whippings, honor killings and the murder of apostates are covered by existing laws. But there are other, more ambiguous areas where the free exercise of Islam might be curtailed for reasons of security. Should the wearing of the burqa be banned? Should mosques and Muslim schools be monitored for seditious activities? Should Friday sermons be pre-approved by government officials?

There are two main problems here. One problem is that there so many questionable aspects to Islamic teachings that mosques, madrassas and Islamic centers would require extensive, round-the-clock monitoring and supervision. This, in turn, would generate innumerable protests and civil rights lawsuits, and, most probably, increased media sympathy for Islam. Handled the wrong way, a tough crackdown could backfire and end up helping rather than hindering the spread of Islam.

The other problem is that such an approach sets up a slippery slope for restricting the religious freedoms of Jews, Christians, Buddhists and others. Any attempt to ban the burqa will elicit demands that nuns be forbidden to wear habits. Likewise, it will be argued that if Muslims can’t wear distinctive garb, Christians shouldn’t be allowed to wear crosses, and Jews shouldn’t be allowed to display the Star of David. And if you’re going to monitor mosques and madrassas for un-American activities, why not monitor churches, homeschools and Christian schools, as well? Granting the government sweeping supervisory powers over Islam might provide it with just the leverage it needs to haul Pastor Jones off to jail the next time he says the wrong thing about gay marriage.

It shouldn’t work that way, of course: people ought to be able to make distinctions. It ought to be obvious that Christianity poses far less of a threat to our society than does Islam. But thanks to thirty years of multicultural indoctrination, many Americans have succumbed to the notion that all groups no matter how different, must be treated the same. Thus Steve Chapman observes that even if Islam were “inherently violent and totalitarian” it would still merit the full protection of the First Amendment.

I’m not so sure about that. If the main goal of a religion is the subjugation of all other religions and governments, along with the establishment of a totalitarian legal system, then it seems legitimate to restrict the free exercise of that religion. Whether Islam is a political ideology or a hybrid of religion and political ideology may not matter for practical purposes. If it is a religion that aims to impose a system of laws that will end freedom of religion and freedom of speech, it seems to disqualify itself from protection by the First Amendment. Moreover, one of the main purposes of the First Amendment is to prohibit the government from establishing a state religion. But the main purpose of Islam is precisely to establish itself as the state religion. In other words, the First Amendment is un-Islamic. Islam’s raison d´etre is to be the established religion in every nation.

Lawrence Auster has made the argument that because Islam is fundamentally different from other religions it shouldn’t be covered by the First Amendment. He writes, “…I believe that it is possible that Islam’s First Amendment protections can be removed, through a law or constitutional amendment stating that Islam is both a religion AND a tyrannical political movement, and that as such Islam should not be considered a religion under the First Amendment.”

Auster admits that this is a radical proposal, but argues that Islam is sui generis and must not be treated as though it were a religion like all other religions. He also makes the case that such legislation because it would be Islam specific would avoid the slippery slope problem whereby increased regulation of Islam would lead to increased regulation of Christianity and Judaism:

Note that such a change in the First Amendment would have no effect on the First Amendment, except insofar as Islam is concerned. So there’s no slippery slope that can be invoked here. No other religions are threatened by this, only Islam.

Auster concedes that, given the current political and social climate, the passage of such a law is highly unlikely, but that it’s worth talking about it if only in order to get people to realize that in Islam we are faced with a unique threat that can’t be fully understood—let alone addressed—within our existing legal and mental frameworks.

Whether or not it’s feasible or even advisable to go the route of a constitutional amendment, it does seem that we need to radically revise our thinking about Islam. With all the hype about change and adaptability, a good many Americans are still clinging to obsolete notions about the nature of Islam. The consensus thinking—that Islam is a religion of peace and brotherhood just like other religions—is as out of date as bell bottoms. It’s difficult to recall any time in our history when the nation’s leadership was so obstinately wedded to such an outmoded and dangerous set of ideas. So, yes, it’s time for a change. It’s time to change course, and start asking how to stop the Islamization of America.

How do you solve a problem like Sharia in a First Amendment society? The answers are far from clear. But here are some of the questions we should be asking:

  • Can the religious part of Islam be separated from the political program? Or are they inextricably bound together?

  • What was the framers intent? Did they mean to extend the free exercise clause to religions that are “inherently violent and totalitarian” as Steve Chapman suggests? The framers and founders wrote frequently about the benefits of religion to society, but it seems fairly certain that the beneficial religion they had in mind was Christianity.

  • Does our society owe something to the Judeo-Christian religious tradition that it doesn’t owe to Islam? If the Judeo-Christian tradition has made a lopsided contribution to our society isn’t it only fair to acknowledge that? Is it wise to demand that all religious traditions be treated in exactly the same way? Recent experience suggests that the easiest way for governments to treat all religions equally is to equally suppress all expressions of faith in the public square—all, that is, except the worship of the state.

  • Is it desirable to maintain a strict neutrality between the religion on which your civilization is founded and the religion which aims to dismantle it?

Liberals like to say that the framers could not have foreseen the many ways in which our society would develop—with the implication that if they could have foreseen they would have written the constitution to conform to the liberal agenda of the moment. Let’s take it as a given that the framers didn’t foresee the destruction of the twin towers on 9/11/2001, nor did they foresee that Muslims would soon after ask to build a mosque at Ground Zero. Were the framers alive today would they insist that the First Amendment guarantees the right to build that mosque on that site? Would they have countenanced the erection of a statue of King George on the site of the Boston Massacre? It seems safe to assume that in both instances the answer would be “no.” The framers were men of principle, but they were also men of common sense. They knew they lived in a society, not an abstraction. And they realized that the preservation of their principles depended very much on the preservation of a certain type of society, and also on the preservation and encouragement of a certain religious heritage.

William Kilpatrick’s articles have appeared in FrontPage Magazine, First Things, National Catholic Register, Catholic World Report, World, Jihad Watch, and Investor’s Business Daily.