By David Waters
The legendary football rivaly between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Tennessee Volunteers began with a 6-6 tie on the third Saturday in October 1901.
Now, the rivaly may soon find a new date and playing field: The First Monday in October, when the U.S. Supreme Court begins its new term each year.
A number of state legislatures have introduced bills to ban or limit sharia, or Islamic sacred law, but the anti-sharia shenanigans by legislators in Tennessee and Alabama seem particularly suited for future lawsuits challenging their constitutionality.
In Tennessee, two legislators have introduced a bill to make a crime of “knowingly providing material support or resources” to a “sharia organization.”
The bill tries to distinguish between the religious practice of Islam and the political application of Islam by “sharia organizations” — which it defines as treasonous or terrorist organizations.
As anyone in mosque-fearing Murfreesboro, Tenn., can tell you, the core of sharia are the five pillars of the faith — the creed, daily prayers, fasting during Ramadan, almsgiving and pilgrimage to Mecca.
Beyond those essentials, there are many interpretations and applications of sharia within Islam. So, in effect, to keep U.S. judges from using sharia to make their rulings, the Tennessee bill likely would require U.S. judges to use sharia to define what is and is not sharia.
Meanwhile, treason and terrorism already are against the laws of Tennessee and the United States. So, in effect, these legislators are saying that we need extra protection from misguided adherents of Islam.
Civil liberty attorneys, start cracking open new packs of legal pads. If that bill becomes law, the constitutional challenges could go all the way — to the highest court in the land.
“It’s complete nonsense,” Charles Haynes, a senior scholar with the First Amendment Center in Nashville, told Bob Smietana of the Tennessean.
Haynes said the bill is based on a complete misunderstanding of sharia law and the U.S. Constitution. “The government can’t label religious laws as wrong or treasonous or evil,” he said. “The government may not take sides in religion. It may not say what is a good religion or a bad religion.”
Not to be outmaneuvered, an Alabama legislator from — you guessed it, Tuscaloosa, home of the Crimson Tide — introduced a resolution to amend the state constitution to ban the use of Islamic law in Alabama courts.
The resolution doesn’t try to distinguish between religious and polticial sharia. It merely and clearly defines sharia as “a form of religious law derived from two primary sources of Islamic law: The divine revelations set forth in the Qur’an and the example set by the Islamic Prophet Muhammad.”
As Tim Lockette pointed out in The Aniston Star, the wording of state Sen. Gerald Allen’s sharia definition is “almost word for word . . . the Wikipedia entry on Sharia law as it appeared Thursday.”
So far, Alabama legislators haven’t banned the judicial or legislative use of Wikipedia, but you’d think they’d find a more authoritative source — perhaps the Tennessee legislature?
Allen acknowledged that he couldn’t define sharia. “I don’t have my file in front of me,” he told Lockette. “I wish I could answer you better.”
Allen told the Star that he’s not aware of any cases in which Muslims have tried to get Alabama judges to apply sharia law.
“It’s not about what’s happening right now,” Allen told the Star. “I’m thinking about 10 years down the road, 20, 30, 40. Time has an effect on these things, and I’m thinking about the future.”
So are civil liberties groups and constitutional attorneys in Tennessee and Alabama. If both bills become law, the race to the U.S. Supreme Court will be on.
Remember, Alabama and Tennessee fans, there are no ties in Supreme Court rulings.
Which anti-sharia approach do you think is less likely to withstand a constitutional challenge?