It's generally true that most lawmakers are lawyers, or at least are familiar with the law. It appears, however, that that may not be the case in North Carolina, where at least 11 Republicans sponsored a clearly unconstitutional bill that would allow North Carolina to declare Christianity its state religion by arguing that the First Amendment doesn't apply to states.
One of the basics of constitutional law is that the Fourteenth Amendment (the one extending citizenship to former slaves) makes it clear that states are required to follow the U.S. Constitution, at least the provisions of the Bill of Rights.
The relevant section is called the Equal Protection Clause, and it reads:
"No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
The purpose at the time was primarily to overturn Jim Crow laws, such as the barring of blacks from juries in West Virginia. But it has since been used much more broadly, to protect the infringement of citizen's fundamental rights as contained in the Bill or Rights.
Of course, the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of speech and religion. There is no more fundamental right in American tradition than the freedom to worship (it was numbered first for a reason). The First Amendment states, in its entirety:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
Key in it is the Establishment Clause, which prevents the government from establishing a state religion.
Again, the Fourteenth Amendment means that states, and their divisions, need to respect all fundamental liberties of their citizens. But this point is apparently lost on some in North Carolina where the resolution with 11 Republican sponsors reads:
SECTION 1. The North Carolina General Assembly asserts that the Constitution of the United States of America does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.
SECTION 2. The North Carolina General Assembly does not recognize federal court rulings which prohibit and otherwise regulate the State of North Carolina, its public schools or any political subdivisions of the State from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.
The reason for this clearly unconstitutional proposal is to establish Christianity as the official religion of North Carolina and ensure that all prayers offered at the beginning of meetings can be Christian ones. The ACLU recently filed a lawsuit charging the Rowan County Board of Commissioners with breaching the Establishment Clause by having 97% Christian prayers at their meetings, and some in the state capitol are trying to run around this.
Hopefully those with a basic understanding of the US Constitution kill the resolution in committee, where it currently is, but if not it certainly can't be upheld by any federal court. A better proposal might be to require some basic civics classes for the Republican cosponsors. I'm sure CAIR or the ACLU would be happy to oblige.
Todd Gallinger is the director of chapter development at CAIR's national headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Reently, The Associated Press (AP) emailed an update to its online Stylebook subscribers about revisions to the recommended use of the term "Islamist" by media professionals. (The AP Stylebook is perhaps the most influential publication of its type and impacts coverage worldwide.)
Late last year, CAIR had approached AP about modifying the reference, which read at that time:
"Islamist -- Supporter of government in accord with the laws of Islam. Those who view the Quran as a political model encompass a wide range of Muslims, from mainstream politicians to militants known as jihadi."
CAIR suggested that AP change its Stylebook to incorporate language similar to that used in the reference to "fundamentalist," which states that the label should not be used unless a group applies the term to itself.
Earlier this year, CAIR urged media outlets to drop the term because, "Unfortunately, the term 'Islamist' has become shorthand for 'Muslims we don't like.'"
In its Thursday email, AP modified the "Islamist" reference to read:
"An advocate or supporter of a political movement that favors reordering government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam. Do not use as a synonym for Islamic fighters, militants, extremists or radicals, who may or may not be Islamists. Where possible, be specific and use the name of militant affiliations: al-Qaida-linked, Hezbollah, Taliban, etc. Those who view the Quran as a political model encompass a wide range of Muslims, from mainstream politicians to militants known as jihadi."
We believe this revision is a step in the right direction and will result in fewer negative generalizations in coverage of issues related to Islam and Muslims. The key issue with the term "Islamist" is not its continued use; the issue is its use almost exclusively as an ill-defined pejorative.
What do you think?
Email comments to me at: ihooper[at]cair.com
Earlier this week a controversy erupted in the Tennessee State Capitol. Apparently, multiple state law makers were concerned about the possible nefarious uses of a new floor level sink in a men's restroom. They were worried that it might be used by American Muslims as a place to wash their feet before praying.
To assure those lawmakers that Tennessee was not, in fact, making any allowance for American Muslims, Legislative Administration Director Connie Ridley sent the following in an email to lawmakers: "I confirmed with the facility administrator for the State Capitol Complex that the floor-level sink installed in the men's restroom outside the House Chamber is for housekeeping use. It is, in layman's terms, a mop sink."
Yes, a mop sink.
Stephen Colbert continued the urgent mop sink investigation in a segment of his show Wednesday night, saying: "Think about it: A mop is nothing but a beard on a stick."
But with that major issue quelled, another example of "Creeping Sharia" emerged. In an op-ed in Tuesday's Washington Times (the far smaller and more conservative competitor to the Washington Post), noted Islamophobe Frank Gaffney expressed his concerns with Obama's new for Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez.
Since 2009 Perez has been Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the United Sates Department of Justice. Before that he was appointed by Maryland's Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley to as Secretary of Maryland's Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
Not surprisingly, Perez's prior accomplishments and experience don't matter to Gaffney. What matters to him is Perez's literal embrace of an American Muslim leader. You see, in 2011, Perez hugged the imam of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, Imam Mohamed Magid.
Never mind that Imam Magid served on the Department of Justice's Countering Violent Extremism Working Group or that he's the president of a respected Muslim organization; he's a Muslim and no one in government should hug him.
The two examples should be humorous, and they are. But they do show the amount of mistrust that many in power have of Muslims, to the extent that they are truthfully afraid of a mop sink. Those lawmakers in Tennessee probably felt that way because of the misinformation they've been fed from active Islamophobes like Frank Gaffney. These are people who make a living (some of them a very nice living) by feeding fear and attacking Muslims. They spread a vision of the world where a hug is an affront to American ideals and a sink is threatening.
It's up to Americans of all faiths to unite behind an inclusive vision of our future together. We need to come together to speak out against such bigotry, and to laugh when it gets to this level of absurdity.
This week, the Senate will take up another vote to move forward on Sen. Chuck Hagel’s nomination as secretary of defense. I believe he should be confirmed.
His confirmation would send the signal that President Obama’s second term will be more diplomacy-oriented and less hawkish in its relations with the Muslim world.
Sen. Hagel has a depth of knowledge of foreign affairs and connections with key players in the international arena that will serve him and our nation well as secretary of defense.
While I cannot endorse all the administration’s defense policies – particularly the counterproductive drone assassination program and actions relating to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – Sen. Hagel’s confirmation may offer a path to re-building the tattered relations we currently have with so many regions and nations that are vital to our national interests.