Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Rise of Sharia Law in America

On the American right these days, there's a great deal of talk about "sharia law," the legal code of Islam.

There's fulminating about the insidious power of religious law, taking over the country.

The truth goes deeper.  Because there are communities of immigrants who have been living under religious law for centuries, right here in America.

I can tell you, from direct personal experience, that these systems of religious law came here with immigrants and have burrowed in, right here in America, working their subtle subversions.  These cells of religious zealots from a barbarous, violent land have chosen not to use the legal system enshrined in our national and state constitutions to settle their disputes.

Instead, they have their own arcane laws, rooted in the strange ways of their peculiar faith.  They mete out their own punishments, none of which have anything to do with the Constitution of the United States of America, or with state or local laws.  They convene their own courts, which pass judgment and inflict sentences on others.  Those courts are answerable to no-one but these zealots, a law unto themselves.

Who are these subversives, who defy the Constitution with their perverse theocratic system of "laws?"

You know who they are, and so do I.

I am speaking, of course, of Presbyterians.

I live under such a system.  We Presbyterians have our own laws, and our own courts, our own approach to due process, and our own penal code.

It's in a section of our Constitution called the Rules of Discipline, and we use it to settle disputes and issues within our churches.

It's actually kind of a scriptural mandate, if you read your Bible.  Christians shouldn't sue one another, or use the court system to handle disputes.  You do that internally, working it out among one another.

And so we do.  Or should.  The siren song of lawyering up is hard to escape sometimes.

In that, we're no different from our Methodist or Episcopalian brethren and sistren.  We're no different from nondenominational sorts, who discipline their members, or from Latter Day Saints, or from Orthodox Jews, or any other of the flavors of American religion.

That's been a part of religious life in America since there was religious life in America.

Of course, those courts have only what power you allow them to have over you.  You are free, at any point in the process, to say, "You have no power over me."  And with that, the spell is broken.

No one gets executed or imprisoned for violating church law.  No-one gets flogged or locked into stocks in the public square.  There was a time when Christian courts did this.  That's why people came to America--to get away from that mess.

It's why, frankly, so many Muslims are coming to America.  First Amendment freedoms are what makes this country worth coming to.

We know this.  And yet, as Muslims move to America seeking the freedom to practice their faith without fear, the existence of "sharia" courts has become an implement in the hands of the fear-mongering reactionary right wing.  "Look at these Muslims, bringing their sharia courts to America!  Sharia law!  Unamerican!"

But here, that looks different.  You can have a court.  You can adjudicate disputes.  But the only power you have is the power that all parties freely give.  No one gets stoned to death.  No one gets beaten.  Muslims, here, are doing no more and no less than Christians and Jews do here.

As is their Constitutional right.

There is no reason -- no sane, authentically American reason -- to feel even faintly threatened by this.