By Alan W. Cohen
History dictates that anti-Sharia protests are both wrongheaded and unconstitutional.
In 1862, Congress passed its first attempt to destroy a religion that competed with the Christian majority. The Anti-Bigamy laws pushed the followers of the Mormon faith outside the boundaries of the states and into a God forsaken land surrounding an undrinkable lake. A decade later, federal prosecutors were hot on the trail of those individuals that continued to live in Mormonism despite federal edicts. In 1879, the case came before the Supreme Court as an unfortunate man by the name of Reynolds was found guilty for the act of practicing his faith as guaranteed under the First Amendment. Unfortunately for Mr.Reynolds, however, the White Christian majority of the Supreme Court did not agree, finding that polygamy was immoral and had no place in Western Civilization. Almost two decades later, Utah was permitted to enter into the Union only on the condition that it ban polygamy.
Fast forward to 2013. Thanks to the work of George Washington University law school professor Jonathan Turley, the State of Utah files with the federal court an affidavit promising to end prosecution of polygamy. That’s right. Despite the furious, but fruitless, prosecutions, polygamy survived, and at the turn of the 21st century became a popular fare in television shows Big Love and Sister Wives. And, what would happen if polygamists demanded the right to license polygamous marriages? Given the Supreme Court’s latest decision on same-sex marriage, as I explain in my new book, Private Vows: The Case for Ending State Regulation of Marriage and Divorce, the federal courts would have no choice but to find that the state has no authority under the Constitution to license marriage, much less dictate the private conduct of those engaged in purely private behavior when it comes to the family. In fact, as I argue in Private Vows, the federal court would have to find that the legal basis for regulating marriage and divorce is a violation of religious liberty because the Supreme Court in 1888 adopted a bastardized interpretation of the Anglican Church’s canons regarding marriage and divorce and made it part of American law, and it did so to promote the same racist and bigoted agenda as the Ku Klux Klan.
But I digress. Why did polygamy survive? As the Supreme Court noted in a late 19th Century decision, prosecuting it required cooperating witnesses, and that would require that those actively practicing polygamy would have to testify. It proved to be an impossible burden. As long as they do no harm to others, or commit no other crime, people who wish to be free to practice their faith will do so even in the face of an intrusive and powerful federal government. The same can be said for those that want to live under Sharia Law. True believers are not going to come forward to testify against violators.
So, what’s the answer to those that fear the voices of those that would oppose the religious liberty of others, and wish to, as the Supreme Court did in the late 19th Century, impose a specific set of beliefs on the rest of the nation? Should we exclude Muslims from entering the country the way that President Trump is supposed to have done with his travel ban? Clearly, we could not even if we wanted to do so. Rather, we must turn to the reason our forefathers came to America in the first place: Freedom. Only by promoting the liberties of others can we truly be free. Only by respecting the beliefs of others can we truly be the nation that our Founders espoused. For those that say that Sharia Law professes hate speech, the answer is more speech, not prohibition. Will those that advocate for Sharia Law ever understand? Of course not. But the same freedom that permits them to worship will be their greatest obstacle to the world domination they desire.
Alan W. Cohen is a retired attorney, blogger and author.
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