Should we Censure Religious Extremists?

This afternoon I had lunch with Amos N. Guiora, professor of Law at J.S. Quinney Law School, University of Utah, and fellow Ann Arbor, Michigan native. We discussed his new book Freedom From Religion: Rights and National security. I must say Guiora speaks with a candidness that is both provocative and disturbing. In his book he addressed the issue of Religious Extremism.

In his view extremism emerges when a “doctrine of certitude” is disseminated throughout a religious body by religious leaders who use it to promote a narrow and violent stream of the religion.

This extremism can be seen in I. Beliefs – Which he argues can’t be changed II. Conduct – Which shouldn’t be changed and III. Speech – which he argues must be censured.

The of proposition of censure is surprising coming from Guiora. The First amendment is something of a sacred cow in constitutional law. So how does a law professor get to this point?

Today he laid out his case clearly. Religious terminology is full of deep and nuanced language. Often a religious leader can say something that is coded and dangerous. Guiora gave the example of a Fatwah as something that is not a direct order for assassination, but is interpreted as that by some in the audience.

We also discussed many of the ways that internal censure has failed. He gave the institutionalized statutory rape of the FLDS, and their practice of abandoning teen boys in Salt Lake City as one example. I must confess these are topics I know little to nothing about. He also spoke about honor killings within Muslim families, the “lost boys of Minneapolis”, the prayers for Obama’s Death by some, and the role of Radical Judaism in the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

I agree with Guiora that there may be some sort of censure of extremism required, and I do realize that internal moderation has not and will not be effective. BUT I’m not sure his means are a good solution. I don’t think we should ever put censure in the hands of the state.

Guiora argues that we should expand the definition of a “clear and present danger” established by Schenck v. United States. Thus the State would means by which extremism is defined by each society.

Guiora believes this is necessary because “the greatest threat to civilized society is religious extremism.” I would argue that this may just put the government itself in a position where they become the most clear and present danger.

It’s a difficult issue, and we haven’t even begun to talk about what this sort of legislation would to to religious communities. There is already too much of a strong human tendency to marginalized those seen as “the Other.” I believe this idea may cause much more injustace then it prevents…. What do you think?

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