Saturday, March 30, 2013

Witches (and very small rocks) Float!

So I read this article about a man in Pakistan being attacked by a mob for blasphemy then arrested for it. Some children sneaked into his house to look for a 'lost ball', saw him 'burning pages of a Koran', then reported it to their mother, who then called the police. The police when arresting him observed that he appeared 'mentally deranged'. From a Pakistani viewpoint, it was a perfect application of Sharia law in action. Of course, as Americans, we see this as just another application of an imperfect justice system.  Such a thing could never happen here in America.

We are of course blessed with the golden 'separation of church and state'. In the past 20 years or so this has come to mean that there can be no demonstration of religion in any official state functions. This takes the form of silly arguments over how many square inches of county government buildings can be devoted to manager scenes at Christmas, or if a cross shaped piece of iron can stand at Ground Zero. With such stalwart foundations, we see the imposition of a religious based law antithetical to our American sense of jurisprudence, and incorrectly believe that such a barbaric practice could never happen here.

First it is necessary to look at the etymology of the phrase 'separation of church and state' to determine if the above understanding of it's meaning poses any legal barrier to the adoption of Sharia law in the US. The phrase itself comes from the writings of Thomas Jefferson when debating the inclusion of the first amendment. He said:
"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church and State."
Which, as expressed in the Constitution reads:
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.
Volumes could be written about how the entire meaning of that profound sentence has been eroded into nothing more than a vague echo of the stark rights that it expresses, but I will leave that for another time. Suffice it to say that there are two counter weighted principles stated there with respect to religion. To paraphrase, they are:

  1. No law shall establish a religion
  2. No law shall prohibit a person to worship as they want
Shockingly absent from this is any implication that a law, as long as it doesn't violate this or any other constitutional restriction, cannot be based on a religious tenet, as long as that tenet isn't explicitly referenced. Of course the second principle should serve to harness legislators, perhaps possessed by a religious fervor, from enacting religious based laws which criminalize other less popular religions. Unfortunately, this second principle (like most of the Constitution)  can easily be circumvented, whittled away for convenience and by omission to the point that it is meaningless. So in answer to the question, could Sharia law happen here, the answer is 'Yes!', without proper vigilance it can.

The skeptic may note that while it is theoretically possible, such an application of a purely religious set of laws could never happen here, given American's inherent belief in personal freedom. Considering the historical precedent, they are mistaken. Strict religious legal jeopardy has happened in America. For proof, I give you the Salem Witch Trials. They occurred in 1692-1693, a scant 80 years before the signing of the declaration. There is a startling similarity to the hysterical accusations of the Salem children in the historical record and the above account of the application of Sharia law. Fortunately, England wisely turned away from such arbitrary nonsense and the Witchcraft act of 1735 made it a
criminal offence to claim that any human being had magical powers or was guilty of practicing witchcraft
This did of course not really settle the matter, but threw the baby out with the bathwater. It quashed accusations of witchcraft, as the state has deemed that witchcraft by fiat did not exist. Of course this left Druids and other 'witch' based religions in something of a bind, as their core worship principles, if openly professed, were criminal. A sort of 'don't ask, don't tell' policy became the norm, but the 'free exercise thereof' clause of the Constitution certainly did not lead to the opening of Covens complete with maypoles between the Methodist and Baptist churches on Main street. One might say they were not even tolerated until the more enlightened age of the 1930s when Gardner founded his Bricket Woods coven. In summary, historically there is more than enough precedence for the imposition of a repressive religious law.

One may argue that in our highly litigious society, there is no way that Sharia law could stand the test of the courts. To counter that assertion, I have only to note the hideously long list of extra legal activities of the current administration that our system of checks and balances have failed to reign in to note the futility of attempting to reverse Sharia law should it be allowed to gain a foothold. No, the only hope that we may avoid the absurdity of the Pakistani example given above is vigilance. It profits neither the left or right to allow that barbarism a home here.

Make no mistake, I am not expressing a hostility toward Islam. While it is not not the religion I choose for myself, I respect those who choose to worship in that manner, and constitutionally have given a portion of my life to guarantee their right to do so. In fact, to hinder them would be antithetical to everything I have expressed here. On the other hand, I deeply believe that their 'religious rights' do have physical limits. As Jefferson opined:
the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions
Thus, they are free to express their opinions on any subject, but should not be allowed to infringe on my freedom of expression or worship without suffering some legal jeopardy themselves. I am similarly negatively disposed toward Baptist who, due to their belief that alcoholic beverages are evil, seek to remove wine from Catholic churches, or protestant chaplains attempting to prevent Wiccan covens from meeting in prisons. It is all needless power trips that has no place in a polite society, and certainly no legal standing. These things do happen though, and we all, Catholic, Protestant, Islamic, Unitarian, or Wiccan, should be vigilant of its insidious lure.

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