On Election Day, Alabama became the ninth state in the U.S. to approve a ban on Shariah. Despite opposition to the measure from a range of communities, including the Alabama Christian Coalition, voters passed the ballot initiative by a wide margin of 72 percent.
“This is a tremendous waste of effort. It’s is a waste of time and it costs money.”
Amendment 1, officially titled “The American and Alabama Laws for Alabama Courts Amendment,” is a riff on the American Laws for American Courts model legislation authored by anti-Muslim lawyer and activist David Yerushalmi. As with other anti-Shariah measures, Alabama’s version does not specifically mention Islam or Shariah law, and this is by design. This trend is part of an attempt to help such measures withstand constitutional scrutiny, as was the case in Oklahoma where a federal judge struck down an initiative because it specifically targeted a religious group.
What are anti-Shariah bills?
Anti-Shariah bills are thinly veiled attempts to provoke anti-Muslim sentiment and serve to stoke fears that Islamic customs – and other “foreign” ways – are taking over American courts and society. However, the bans ignore longstanding rules and practices that state courts have relied on to consider foreign laws when weighing decisions. These bans also raise a range of unintended consequences for people of all faiths or none at all.
Alabama’s version takes this one step further than the others. It also prohibits the state courts from giving “full faith and credit” to records or judicial proceedings of other states in the United States.
For the most part, ALAC bills are a failure. In state legislatures, 102 attempts have been made in 28 states to pass anti-Shariah bills. Voters or lawmakers in only 9 of those states have actually succeeded. But, as Yerushalmi told the New York Times in 2011, passage of the bills is almost beside the point:
“If this thing passed in every state without any friction, it would not have served its purpose. The purpose was heuristic – to get people asking this question, ‘What is Shariah?’”
ACT! for America’s agenda to ban Shariah
State-by-state anti-Shariah legislation has been a major policy goal for the anti-Muslim grassroots organization ACT! for America. The organization claims more than 800 chapters across the United States and more than 279,000 members whom they mobilize through email and social media to push measures that discriminate against Muslims and immigrants.
In September, the group honored Alabama State Sen. Gerald Allen, the bill’s sponsor. The senator unsuccessfully proposed a similar bill in 2011 aimed directly at banning Shariah. This time, he had help from Birmingham attorney Eric Johnston.
Despite its passing, Alabama’s Amendment 1 has been widely criticized. In an interview with AL.com, Randy Brinson, president of the Alabama Christian Coalition, called the amendment a “tremendous waste of effort.”
“This is just silliness,” Brison said. “It’s all something that lawmakers can trumpet back to constituents that they’re protecting Christian values, but they need to be working on other stuff.”
The Washington Post’s Eugene Volokh makes the point that the amendment “would largely just restate” laws already in the U.S. Constitution. Of course, that’s the point. These laws do not address any actual problems, but rather simply stoke existing fears of Muslims and Islam. And in turn, only make a mockery of our democratic process.