Anti-Muslim Hysteria Returns to the Texas Capitol

by Dan Quinn

Efforts to pass legislation addressing the mythical threat of Sharia, or Islamic law, in Texas are gearing up yet again in the current legislative session.

Right-wing state lawmakers have been pushing for years to pass legislation banning Sharia in Texas. Many such bills around the country have been linked to a core group of anti-Muslim fanatics (see here as well) who claim that America is at risk of coming under the control of Muslim extremists and Islamic law. Nevermind that the U.S. Constitution forbids the establishment of religious laws. (And nevermind that many of those fanatics and their supporters often argue that American laws should be based on their own particular Christian beliefs.)

Federal courts have taken a skeptical view of such laws, noting that they single out a particular religion. Indeed, many efforts to pass such laws represent little more than poorly concealed bigotry aimed at Muslim Americans.

So in recent years supporters of anti-Sharia bills have tried to craft laws without actually mentioning Sharia. Instead, their bills bar the application of “foreign,” “international” or “cultural” laws in our courts. And supporters often try to avoid even mentioning Sharia in legislative debates over the bills.

No one is fooled. And legislators’ efforts to hide the real targets of their legislation are further undermined by their own statements in front of friendly audiences.

Take, for example, remarks by state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, at Tuesday’s Faith and Freedom event sponsored by religious-right groups at the Texas Capitol. Trying to dispel the notion that his proposed HB 562 is really about demagoguery and bigotry, Leach insisted that Sharia is a real threat. From a Texas Observer story today:

“Read the news,” Leach told the crowd. The menace of Sharia law was becoming more pressing every day. “There’s no judge in Texas that should even think twice about violating the U.S. Constitution.”

Leach’s words reflect the time-honored political practice of fear-mongering. There is zero chance of anyone imposing Sharia law in Texas. Our judges are not violating the Constitution and imposing it on anyone. If they did, we would be among those standing in strong opposition.

But legislation proposed by lawmakers like Leach do threaten voluntary agreements individuals enter into based on their religious beliefs — including the beliefs of Muslims, Jews, Christians and other faiths. Do Texans want politicians interfering in their religious freedom and their right to enter into such private agreements?

More to the point, these anti-Sharia bills simply appeal to bigotry by using religion as a weapon to divide Texans for political gain. We’ve seen it over and over again at the Texas Capitol. And we’re seeing it again this year.