Trump’s presidency has brought a well-documented wave of right-wing nationalism and white supremacy, but it has also renewed efforts to pass anti-Sharia legislation at the state level in 17 different states. Twenty-one bills were proposed this year, a surge in legislation following years of relatively small numbers of proposals throughout the country.
Following Tea Party victories in 2010, anti-Sharia legislation hit state legislature committees constantly, with more than 70 bill proposals in 2011 and 2012 alone. However, 2013 through 2016 saw significantly less proposals, making the 2017 session (a 320% increase) even more significant.
Anti-Sharia legislation across the country share a similar origin. The language used in most proposals was crafted by David Yerushalmi, a founder of the American Freedom Law Center. Yerushalmi is but one member of the anti-Muslim lobby in America and has served as a representative for such ideologues as Pam Geller, found of Stop Islamization of America, and Pastor Terry Jones, proponent of public Quran burnings.
Some of these proposals come from unexpected states, such as Connecticut, a Northern state that has voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1992. However, state legislative districts can look very different than aggregate state partisan leanings.
Representative Robert Sampson represents most of Wolcott County in Connecticut, the county with the highest proportion vote for Trump in the 2016 presidential election (68 percent). His legislative history seems typical for a conservative Republican though – restrictions on unions, defunding institutions of higher education, and anti-immigration bills.
Some proponents of anti-Sharia legislation are less surprising. Colorado State Senator Vicki Marble introduced an anti-Sharia bill merely two weeks after a mosque was vandalized in a neighboring district. Marble claims that she was inspiredinspired to propose the legislation to protect women and children who may be shipped off to foreign countries by husbands or fathers not native to the U.S.Like her Republican counterpart in Connecticut, Marble has introduced conservative legislation banning sanctuary cities, easing exemptions for child immunization, and removing restrictions to gun laws. Marble has also been the subject of much media attention after making derogatory commits about minorities in 2013, as well as a recent debacle where she berated a Cub Scout after receiving tough questions about her stances on gun control. Her bill was effectively killed in the Senate Judiciary Committee after two Democrats and one Republican voted against it.
Despite the resurgence of anti-Sharia legislation, there is hope that these efforts are the last kick of a dying animal. With the recent elections in Virginia, in particular anti-Sharia advocate and Republican state delegate Bob Marshall losing his seat (to Danica Roem, the first transgender state legislator, no less), the pendulum may be swinging away from the racial and fundamentalist leanings of the Tea Party and Donald Trump and towards inclusion and freedom for all.
However, this shift will not be orchestrated by a political party or massive national organizations. This shift requires Muslims to open their mosques and homes to their neighbors, build strong coalitions with other groups, and practice the ethics we preach and expect from others (as many already are). Changing public opinion about Muslims and Islam will have to be an organic and grassroots effort, spearheaded by outreach committees, additional volunteer work, and connecting with other religious and social justice institutions.
Charles M. Turner is returning to Altmuslim as a columnist. His column appears in the third week of every month.
Turner is a PhD student in Political Science at the University of Utah, and his research focuses on minority politics, particularly the inclusion of religious minorities in American democracies. Prior to continuing his studies, he served as the Muslim Life Coordinator at the University of Richmond, Government Teacher for the Madina School of Richmond, and a member of the Civic Outreach Committee at the Islamic Center of Virginia.