By Jonathan Herrera

When considering what internships to apply for as I seek a master’s degree in public policy, I focused on programs that would allow me to contribute to the protection of religious rights in America.

I am most concerned with the decline in religious tolerance toward followers of the Abrahamic faiths.

As a Christian, I see Muslims and Jews as my brothers and sisters under the same God. Seeing how the American Muslim community is struggling for equally, I felt compelled to assist in some way to ensure that the religious rights of Muslims in America are protected.

I applied for a number of internships, but only the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Government Affairs Department Fellowship Program allowed me to gain an in-depth perspective on government affairs at the nation’s capital, while simultaneously using this knowledge to achieve my goal of protecting religious rights.

My primary work as a fellow at CAIR was to identify and track legislation that sought to discriminate against or to vilify the American Muslim Community.

Since 2010, there has been a nationwide movement by Islamophobic groups and individuals to introduce these unconstitutional laws in state legislatures nationwide.

This type of legislation is commonly referred to as “anti-foreign law” or “anti-sharia.” Taken out of context and without understanding the hate agenda underpinning this campaign, the bills seemed legitimate and I was unsure at first if I should work against them.

However, I learned through my research that I am already protected against any “foreign” or religious law taking precedence over state law or the U.S. Constitution. So these anti-Muslim bills do not accomplish the stated goal of their proponents. And, if there is really no need for these bills, what it their true goal?

The majority of these bills have adopted language from a model legislation titled “American Laws for American Courts” authored by David Yerushalmi.

Yerushalmi reveals the bills’ true intention when he told the New York Times (July 30, 2011): “If this thing passed in every state without any friction, it would have not served its purpose” and “The purpose was heuristic — to get people asking this question, ‘What is Shariah?’”

Clearly this legislation is not meant to protect Americans from foreign laws, but is instead designed to create more hostility and fear toward the American Muslim community – the very definition of Islamophobia.

The original language for many of these bills, which clearly referred to “shariah” and Muslims, was defeated in court or died almost instantly in committee or on the chamber floor. For example, voters approved an anti sharia law amendment to Oklahoma’s constitution in 2010, but it was later struck down as unconstitutional by a federal judge.

To counter these ongoing defeats, many of the bills’ sponsors changed to using facially-neutral language in an attempt to hide their true intent of discriminating against American Muslims and demonizing Islam.

While this tactic proved successful for the sponsors, in that their bills sometimes passed through right-leaning legislatures, the religious rights of the followers of all Abrahamic faiths suffered as a result.

The legitimacy of marriages, divorces and adoptions conducted under Christian, Jewish, and Islamic law could now be disputed in state courts as being based on “foreign law.”

Working with CAIR as a government affairs fellow, I intend to do my part in uniting all people of faith once again as one nation, under God, and to help stop the drift away from our nation’s founding principle of religious freedom.