The Unintended Consequences of “Anti-Sharia” Laws
In the past year, “anti-sharia” laws have been sweeping through state legislatures across the country. Despite their grand threats about the dangers of Islamic takeover, basic questioning has revealed the sponsors of these bills to be woefully unprepared with specific examples.
In response to this problem and the threat of religious discrimination lawsuits, many legislatures have taken to rewriting their bills to replace specific references to sharia with vague proscriptions against “foreign law” that would ban sharia de facto.
Unsurprisingly, this wide-ranging approach turns out to be full of unintended consequences, affecting religious groups the bill authors had no intention of targeting. Jewish Telegraph Agency reported last week that Jewish groups are increasingly concerned that such laws could threaten their use of halachah, traditional Jewish law, to consensually resolve intra-community disputes.
“The laws are not identical, but as a general rule they could be interpreted broadly to prevent two Jewish litigants from going to a beit din,” a Jewish religious court, said Abba Cohen, the Washington director of Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox umbrella group. “That would be a terrible infringement on our religious freedom.”
A number of recent beit din arbitrations that were taken by litigants to civil courts — on whether a batch of etrogim met kosher standards; on whether a teacher at a yeshiva was rightfully dismissed; and on the ownership of Torah scrolls — would have no standing under the proposed laws.
“The impact of this legislation goes well beyond prohibiting religious tribunal resolution of monetary or ministerial disputes,” says one of the letters, to the Arizona state Senate. “It would apparently prohibit the courts from looking to key documents of church, synagogue or mosque governance — religious law — to resolve disputes about the ownership of a house of worship, selection and discipline of ministers, and church governance.”
Obviously, these bills are objectionable in both their specific and generic formats. Hopefully though, this type of interfaith opposition leads legislatures to reconsider the whole endeavor.