Local Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders gathered near the Tennessee Capitol on Tuesday to ask that an anti-Shariah law be withdrawn from consideration by the state legislature.
If passed, they fear, the law would make it illegal to be Muslim in Tennessee, although the bill's supporters say it specifically targets groups that support terrorism.
"All of a sudden, I pray using the Koran or the Sunnas of the Prophet, and it's a crime," said Imam Yusuf Abdullah of Masjid Al-Islam in Nashville. "What kind of bill is that?"
But Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, said Muslims have nothing to fear from the bill he introduced in the state Senate because it targets terrorism, not religion.
"There are different arms of Shariah, and the arm in my bill has nothing to do with their religious practices," he told the Daily News Journal. "I am a strong constitutionalist, and I believe in the right to worship."
The bill exempts the peaceful practice of Islam. But it also claims that Shariah law requires its followers to support overthrowing the U.S. and Tennessee constitutions and governments.
"The knowing adherence to sharia and to foreign sharia authorities constitutes a conspiracy to further the legal, political and military doctrine and system which embraces the law of jihad," the law reads.
That raises concerns, said Jim Blumstein, a constitutional law scholar at Vanderbilt University. Laws can ban crimes, he said. But banning religious beliefs or practices is another matter.
"A law that is focused on anti-social conduct should be taken seriously and examined," he said. "A law that equates religious exercise with anti-social conduct is very problematic."
Gadeir Abbas, a staff attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, cited a section that labels all rulings from Shariah authorities as supporting violence. That section, he said, would make it illegal to be Muslim in Tennessee.
Abbas doesn't believe the bill will become law. If it passes and Gov. Bill Haslam signs it, his group will take legal action.
''We sue the moment that he signs it," Abbas said. (More)