should anti-sharia bills be a cause of concern for Catholics…

… I’m no legal expert or canon lawyer but this sounds like quite a stretch;

Last month, South Dakota passed a law that seeks to prevent the enforcement of “any religious code.” The very brief bill stated simply: “No court, administrative agency, or other governmental agency may enforce any provisions of any religious code.”

It seems quite innocuous, but clearly, it was intended to target the threat of sharia law. In many other states, similar laws do not mention sharia explicitly, but rather “foreign law” or “foreign codes.” As many have pointed out, this is a solution looking for a problem, as nowhere in America are Muslims seeking to supplant the Constitution with sharia law. If you think about this and delve into South Dakota’s law and similar laws in other states, one thing starts to become clear: Leaving aside the fact that these laws are discriminatory by their very nature, any law that bans “foreign codes” should cause Catholics to take heed.

That is because the Holy See, which is the source of Catholic canon law, resides in the Vatican, a city-state that is a sovereign, independent country. Thus, technically, Catholic Canon Law is a “foreign code” or “foreign law,” and those state laws that prevent courts from enforcing or taking “foreign laws” into account should also then apply to Catholic Canon Law. [SOURCE]

My understanding is those looking to impose sharia law want separate courts to enforce their religious laws. You know, to protect people that carry out honor killings and junk. Sharia law looks to circumvent laws that everyone else has to follow by claiming a religious exemption, like exempting women in burqas from TSA pat downs. Catholics haven’t called for separate legal systems and we still follow civic laws so I don’t follow the extreme leaps in logic of this statement, from the same article;

This is significant because any marriage officiated in a Catholic Church under Catholic religious rules cannot be enforced by the courts if anti-Sharia bills become law. Couples need to get a marriage license, but if they choose to have, for example, a Catholic religious ceremony—which brings the marriage into being—in a church rather than a courthouse, then those marriages are performed using a “foreign law.”

If, God forbid, such a couple were to then divorce, the court cannot do anything because the marriage was officiated with a “foreign law.” If one spouse were to die, the court would not be allowed to enforce the deceased’s will, because, again, the marriage was officiated using “foreign law.” If a spouse is sick and incapacitated in a hospital, how can the health care providers take the spouse as a surrogate decision maker if, in the first place, the marriage cannot be enforced because it was officiated using “foreign law”?

Um… yeah.

I guess one could make a connection with anti-sharia bills and Catholics current fight against the HHS mandate, but I see our fight as one against the government looking to impose laws preventing us from practicing our religion. Anti sharia bills, as I understand it, are about preventing foreign religious groups from establishing their own laws and legal systems that trump pre-existing civil laws and prevent those laws from being upheld. That’s a significant difference. When Catholics get divorced we get divorced in the same courts as everyone else so I fail to see the connection this author is trying to make. In all honesty, it just sounds like he is trying to win support – support I will never ever ever give – for the idea of sharia law being established here in the US by creating a strange series of events that may or may not effect Catholics.

Again I am no legal expert or canon lawyer so I ask, do you think the intentionally vague language of the bill could be a threat, because I don’t. But I would love to hear your take on it since I am obviously biased and suffer from bouts of misanthropic xenophobia.

Sound off.

PS – To be very very clear, I would like to add that I will never ever support sharia law here, or anywhere for that matter, due to the heinous and vicious persecution suffered by Christians living in Muslim dominated countries where sharia law is practiced. It is this author’s very strong belief and opinion that Islam is not a religion of tolerance and peace. Suggesting a discussion on this topic does not imply I think sharia law is OK or that I entertain the slightest possibility that sharia law should be upheld in US.

About Katrina Fernandez

Mackerel Snapping Papist

  • Andy S

    Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s…Catholics should support anti-sharia legislation every chance we get. Millions of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world suffer under sharia law. The heinous stories coming out of Egypt and Iran alone of non-Muslims being accused of/punished for blasphemy and apostasy is quite enough. No foothold for sharia in any corner of America should be entertained in anyway.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thecrescat Katrina Fernandez

      I agree 100%.  

      • kenneth

        That’s funny. The exact same sentiment was used against “papists” for most of this country’s history up until about the Cold War. Many of the early colonies flat-out barred Catholics from settling or sharply limited their civil rights. After Independence,  Immigration laws, laws about parochial schools and even Prohibition were all carefully designed in order to protect America from the contamination of “foreign law and influences.”  JFK had to issue a specific promise that he would act under the Constitution and not as an agent of the Vatican. 

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thecrescat Katrina Fernandez

          Then you do not understand the concept of sharia law. 

  • Mr. WAC

     I hold a JD from CUA, so I suppose I am, by force of law in some jurisdictions, a “legal expert”, though this subject is hardly my forte.  I know that the state can’t answer a religious question, but that the law does allow the state to defer to the authority of a recognized religious tribunal in certain limited cases (regarding questions that are purely religious, such as matters of religious conversion, church property ownership, etc.)  If the secular courts can no longer defer to religious tribunals on purely religious matters, then it means that secular courts have to come up with their own invasive (in terms of the First Amendment) criteria to judge cases where there is an overlap.  I’m not sure if they are detrimental to Catholics, but I do think that these statues are bad law. 

  • http://thehomesickhome.blogspot.jp/ L.


    Sharia law looks to circumvent laws that everyone else has to follow by claiming a religious exemption, like exempting…” coverage for contraception in employee health plans….? Anyone?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thecrescat Katrina Fernandez

      Agreed, L. I thought about that as I wrote this. I’m not informed enough about the legalities to debate that. I am hoping someone addresses though bc I would like to know what that means for us as well. 

      I don’t know if the author is trying to win support for sharia or not, that’s just me – naturally suspicious – and I heard from many the bill is bad. But how? How could anti sharia bills  be a bad thing? How could this bill effect us, if at all?

      And where does, as you suggest, the HHS mandate fall into this?

      • http://thehomesickhome.blogspot.jp/ L.

        I don’t know the answers to those questions, but the parallel jumped out at me at once.

         [Usual disclaimer to avoid threadjacks: Islam and Catholicism are vastly different and sharia is a separate and much more comprehensive legal code rather than just the exemptions from certain laws that some Catholics seek. I am not trying to make a broad comparison here.]

        On its face, “No court, administrative agency, or other governmental agency may enforce any provisions of any religious code” sounds reasonable, like something that can be used to explain why an Islamic fundamentalist  (or fundamentalist of any other flavor) can’t call the police if his “disobedient” adult wife runs away and expect them to catch her and return her to him.

        But how it would apply to religious exemptions to laws? I am not a religious person myself, but I am somewhat of a First Amendment fanatic, even when it comes to ideas I don’t agree with, so I will be following this with interest.

    • Andy S

      Catholic opposition to abortion and the HHS Mandate is something totally different than sharia. We, as Catholics, don’t want our “laws” to be the law of the land. We just want to positively influence the societies in which we live so that unjust laws do not stand. Muslims believe that sharia can and should govern their faith and morals AND be the law of the land.

      We don’t need to stand with Islamists and sharia because of the HHS Mandate…nor for any other reason. Catholic pro-life teaching existed for about 600 years before Islam was even on the planet, is rooted in natural law, and stands on its own, quite nicely, from sharia.

      • http://thehomesickhome.blogspot.jp/ L.

        “…
        so that unjust laws do not stand.” That sounds like setting “the law of the land” to me. 

        • http://thehomesickhome.blogspot.jp/ L.

          So much for my self-stated goal of avoiding a threadjack.  I have to ask, why the heck should we respect teachings just because they “existed for 600 years,” or a thousand,  or whatever?  Traditionally, in most cultures around the world, women were the property of men, and there was no such thing as marital rape. I haven’t seen anyone make a coherent argument that our modern laws were anything but an improvement for society at large. Just because people have always held certain beliefs doesn’t make them right for all time. Heck, even Canon Law changes.

        • Andy s

          May sound like that to you, but that us unfortunate because it us totally incorrect. Muslims don’t just want exceptions…they want sharia to not just supersede existing gov’t civil law, they want to replace it.

          • http://thehomesickhome.blogspot.jp/ L.

            But when it comes to things like abortion and contraception, you don’t just want exceptions — you want your stance to replace the current law of the land. 

    • http://twitter.com/dferg David Ferguson

      Ah, yes, those pesky Christians, trying to hide behind the First Amendment.

      • http://thehomesickhome.blogspot.jp/ L.

        The First Amendment protects Muslims, too — where to draw the line, when it conflicts with laws?

  • Tim

    Constitutional protections trump any state law, so the South Dakota law would have to be interpreted as consistent with those protections or overturned.  I don’t know much about the S.D. law, but it seems pretty superfluous to me (just reiterating the “non establishment” clause of the First Amendment).

    Also, the author’s marriage example seems wrong to me.  I’ve never married, but isn’t everyone required to get a marriage license?  The ceremony by itself doesn’t mean a couple is married in the state’s eyes, and just having the ceremony without getting a license means you aren’t married (unless the state has “common law marriage”).

    Then again, these anti-shariah laws are pretty pointless.  Anyone looking to enforce shariah law probably doesn’t have much respect for state laws or the Constitution, so I doubt the shariah enforcers would honor any law proscribing shariah, Constitutional or not.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thecrescat Katrina Fernandez


      Anyone looking to enforce shariah law probably doesn’t have much respect for state laws or the Constitution, so I doubt the shariah enforcers would honor any law proscribing shariah, Constitutional or not.”

      Good point. 

  • Lydiamcgrew

    This statement is incorrect and uninformed: ”
    As many have pointed out, this is a solution looking for a problem, as nowhere in America are Muslims seeking to supplant the Constitution with sharia law.”

    (Drat, now the italics won’t turn off.) There has been already one case in New Jersey, if I recall the state correctly. where a judge actually ruled against a wife in a spousal rape case on the grounds that the Muslim husband was, under Islamic law, allowed total access to his wife sexually.Fortunately it was overturned on appeal, but it was a real threat that really happened. Similarly, a judge in another state (cannot recall the state) recently ruled  that it was okay for a  Muslim on-looker to jump and partially choke (while removing a sign) an atheist marcher dressed as “zombie Mohammad” because it is offensive to Islam for the atheist to dress that way. There really are at least individual judges attempting to enforce aspects of sharia law in our country.

    Second, the whole thing about not recognizing church weddings is utterly out to lunch. Individual pastors (and I would imagine imams) are licensed by their individual states to perform weddings. That’s why usually they actually say, “By the power vested in me by the state of Illinois” (or whatever state). The civil marriage is recognized by the state as a civil entity, not as a religious entity. It is in no sense an application of religious law to allow people who also happen to be clergymen to officiate at civil weddings. The wedding is not being _constituted_ by the religious law, at least not insofar as it exists as a civil marriage in the eyes of the state.

    And the HHS mandate and that whole thing is of course also unrelated, as there is substantial case law on the first amendment concerning religious liberty, and in no sense are the challenges to the HHS mandate on the basis of religious liberty attempts to _establish_ a religious law or code or to “enforce any provision of” any religious law or code.

    I’m not a lawyer. (Disclaimer.) But I am very interested in all of the related issues here and have tried to follow them pretty carefully over the years.

  • kenneth

    Anti-Sharia legislation accomplishes nothing in the way of new law or legal safeguards for anyone. It is a piece of propaganda used by redneck legislators to get a “hell yeah” from their constituents.  Seriously, South Dakota? Do they have a pressing Sharia problem? Do they even have enough Muslims in any one area to convene a Sharia court? 
      In their legitimate incarnation, Sharia courts are no different than a Beth din (rabbinical court) or a Canon Law proceeding. They’re strictly voluntary in nature. They mostly adjudicate ritual and sacramental matters and matters of the standing of people within that religion. They can also serve as vehicles for private mediation of disputes according to religious principles binding only on those who adhere to them.
        Now, the key word of course is “voluntary.” You can’t issue rulings or do things in contradiction to civil law nor can you deny people recourse to civil or criminal law. That’s already illegal, and has been forever. It’s amply covered by the 14th Amendment, the Civil Rights Act  and numerous criminal laws pertaining to intimidation of victims and witnesses, kidnapping, racketeering, you name it.
        That’s not to say there aren’t practical problems with discovering and enforcing those things in insular immigrant communities, but no prosecutor needs “anti-Sharia” law to get the job done. All South Dakota has done is to say crimes of coercion are now “illegaler” for Muslims, because, “well, we all know how those folks are.”
       Do these laws pose a problems for Catholics? Well, they might, depending on how they’re worded. If they flat-out prohibit the empaneling and proceeding of any body employing “foreign law”, then yes, Catholics, and Jews are in trouble. Unless Rome is now a U.S. state or territory and the Vatican is enumerated as a fourth branch of government here, Canon Law is most definitely as “foreign” as anything promulgated in Saudi Arabia.
       If you can’t use “foreign law” even for internal or voluntary matters anymore, no church panel would have any standing to deny or even hear an annulment request, the censure or laicization of rogue clergy, or any other matter. Those would all go to the civil courts and be handled under civil law (which is un-equipped to consider such issues). Likewise, no rabbinical court would have any standing to say what is kosher or not. If I wanted to market pork rinds as kosher and count convince a civil judge, that would be that. 


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