This year, we witnessed a troubling new phenomenon when a small group of extremist Islamophobes tried to get anti-Islam laws passed in more than 20 states.
The process began with State Question 755 (SQ755), a state ballot measure in Oklahoma in the November 2010 election that would have amended that state’s constitution to forbid judges from considering Islamic principles (Sharia) or international law when making a ruling. After an aggressive fear-mongering campaign that included political ads depicting gruesome videos of beheadings as “sharia,” Oklahoma voters passed SQ755 with an overwhelming vote of 70 percent.
As a civil rights advocacy organization, CAIR recognized that SQ755 could seriously impact the daily lives of Oklahoma Muslims and business people of all faiths if it was enacted. While the ballot measure’s supporters scared people by calling it the “Save Our State” bill and claiming that Muslims would “take over” and enact frightening laws and customs, we know the reality of Islam and Sharia – that brutality and inhumanity have no place in our faith, and that Sharia encompasses the principles of Islam and is based on justice and compassion.
If SQ755 and the more than 20 similar bills that followed it were passed and enforced, many aspects of Muslims’ daily lives – such as participating in mosque activities or having an Islamic marriage contract or will – could have become illegal.
Because of the serious civil liberties implications of these anti-Islam bills, CAIR knew decisive legal action had to be taken to set a precedent from the beginning. We watched the political debate over SQ755 and prepared to respond.
The day after the ballot measure was passed in the Oklahoma election, the executive director of CAIR’s Oklahoma chapter, with assistance from CAIR’s national office, filed a lawsuit in federal court to address the dangerous and unconstitutional elements of the bill. A federal judge agreed with the lawsuit’s arguments and put a temporary hold on SQ755 until the issue could be heard in court.
In the spring of 2011, the same group of extremist Islamophobes pushed to have anti-Islam bills introduced in the state legislatures of 23 states. To date, CAIR is the only Muslim organization to challenge these discriminatory efforts in court and has been at the forefront of coordinating advocacy challenges to this movement in many states.
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CAIR ACTION ALERT:
Action: Challenge ”˜Anti-Sharia’ Bills Using CAIR’s New Toolkit
(WASHINGTON, D.C., 3/1/2012) – CAIR is calling on American Muslims and other people of conscience to use the information offered in its new community toolkit designed to assist those seeking to preserve America’s ideal of religious pluralism in the face of unconstitutional “anti-Sharia” bills that have been introduced in more than 20 states nationwide.
CAIR’s “Securing Religious Liberty” toolkit includes lessons learned from opposing anti-Muslim legislative efforts in Oklahoma, Tennessee and Michigan, an explanation of the legal impact of the discriminatory bills and a discussion of what Sharia is and what it is not.
“I urge community leaders and activists to read this important toolkit thoroughly, to distribute it widely and to discuss its contents with civil liberties coalition partners,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad. “Americans of all faiths must be vigilant in defense of the Constitution and the freedoms it grants.
The toolkit’s introduction states in part:
“The American Muslim community’s challenge is to prevent agenda-driven anti-Islam legislation from undermining America’s ideals of free religious expression and to minimize government intrusion into personal religious affairs”¦In preventing this erosion of American ideals, Muslims are in fact living the two core goals of Sharia: to be a benefit to humanity and to prevent harm to humanity.”
The toolkit includes checklists of steps to take before and after anti-Sharia legislation is introduced in a state legislature and on scheduling productive meetings with elected officials. It also includes appendixes offering background on David Yerushalmi, the anti-Islam extremist who authored the template for the anti-Sharia bills, as well as sample news releases and action alerts on the issue.
Yerushalmi is head of the anti-Islam hate group Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE), which once offered a policy proposal that would make “adherence to Islam” punishable by 20 years in prison, called for the immediate deportation of all non-citizen Muslims and urged Congress to declare war on the “Muslim Nation,” which SANE defined as “all Muslims.” The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) named Yerushalmi a member of the “anti-Muslim inner circle.”
Links to Background Information on David Yerushalmi:
David Yerushalmi: A Driving Force Behind Anti-Sharia Efforts in the U.S.
Meet the White Supremacist Leading the GOP’s Anti-Sharia Crusade
The Man Behind the Anti-Shariah Movement (NY Times)
Anti-Islam Activist Yerushalmi Measures Imams’ Beards
Profile of Anti-Sharia Extremist David Yerushalmi