The Irrelevance of Anti-Sharia Laws to the “Zombie Mohammed” Case

As I note below, I highly disapprove of the judge’s comments in the “zombie Mohammed” affair. But the suggestion that anti-Sharia laws would help avoid this (see also here) doesn’t make much sense to me.

This is not a situation where the judge “applied Sharia law” in any normal sense of the phrase. The judge claimed that he simply didn’t find enough evidence against the defendant. Perhaps the judge was biased against the victim because of the victim’s anti-Muslim speech, but an anti-Sharia law wouldn’t have helped avoid that. More broadly, a law banning judges from “consider[ing] … Sharia Law” (in the words of the Oklahoma anti-Sharia amendment) wouldn’t keep judges from concluding that someone who insults members of other religious groups should be admonished, punished, or even stripped of the right to legal protection — they would just conclude this based on their own notions of refraining from offending other groups.

Even a judge who wants to give a break to a defendant who attacks an alleged blasphemer, on the grounds that the defendant comes from a culture where such blasphemy is illegal, could do that without “consider[ing] … Sharia Law.” He could just consider the actual practices of the foreign country, just as an immigration judge who gives asylum to a convert from Islam who faces a possible death sentence for apostasy back home could make an observation about actual practices in the foreign country without “consider[ing] … Sharia Law.”

The same is true with regard to the rightly infamous New Jersey trial court decision accepting a cultural defense with regard to nonconsensual sex in a domestic restraining order case. (I might be mistaken, but I think this blog was the blog that first reported on that case.) The court there did consider the Muslim defendant’s religious beliefs, but no more so than a court would consider a claimant’s religious beliefs when he seeks a Title VII-based religious exemption from an employer’s no-headgear policy. The problem in the New Jersey case wasn’t that the court considered the defendant’s Islamic religious beliefs, but what it did with its conclusion regarding those beliefs.

As posts such as the one about the zombie Mohammed, about the New Jersey case, and about a wide range of other controversies show, I certainly don’t approve of people’s religious beliefs — including Islamic religious beliefs — being used as a justification for violating others’ rights. But anti-Sharia laws don’t solve those problems, and instead risk creating unnecessary problems of their own.

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