Unintended consequences: Attorneys argue the Religious Freedom Restoration Act should protect U.S. Muslims motivated to join the Islamic State because of their sincerely held religious beliefs.
Lawyers for suspected homegrown Islamic terrorists wanting to join the Islamic State are arguing charges should be dropped because the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) protects the sincerely held religious beliefs of the Islamic State sympathizers.
In particular, attorneys for a Chicago-area man charged with trying to join the Islamic State group in Syria are seeking the dismissal of the charges based on religious freedom concerns.
Lawyers for 19-year-old Mohammed Hamzah Khan contend the suspected would-be terrorist was simply expressing his religious freedom by attempting to “emigrate” to the Islamic State.
Lawyers point to a letter the Islamic State sympathizer left for his parents as evidence of his intent to emigrate, and his sincerely held religious belief that it was his duty as a Muslim to join the Islamic State.
The following is an excerpt from that letter:
An Islamic State has been established and it is thus obligatory upon every able-bodied male and female to migrate there. Muslims have been crushed under foot for too long. . . .This nation is openly against Islam and Muslims. . . . I do not want my progeny to be raised in a filthy environment like this.
I am . . . obliged to pay taxes to the [U.S.] government. This in turn will be used automatically to kill my Muslim brothers and sisters. . . . I simply cannot sit here and let my brothers and sisters get killed, with my own hard-earned money. . . . I cannot live under a law in which I’m afraid to speak my beliefs. I want to be ruled by the Sharia [Islamic law]. . . . Me living in comfort with my family while my other family are getting killed is plain selfish.
We are all witness that the western societies are getting more immoral day by day. I extend an invitation to my family to join me in the Islamic States. True, it is getting bombed, but let us not forget that we didn’t come to this world for comfort.
Writing for Americans United For Separation of Church and State, Sarah Jones predicts that the courts will ultimately reject the argument that the RFRA recognizes a religious freedom right to join the Islamic State. Jones notes:
Americans simply do not have a First Amendment right to join organizations that threaten our national security. It is the very definition of a governmental “compelling interest” to prevent them from doing so.
Jones is probably right. However, the case does raise some interesting issues pertaining to the rights of individuals in light of the recent Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision, which dramatically and dangerously enlarged the scope of the RFRA.
The case also points to larger questions concerning the increasing popularity of the Islamic State with some Muslims in the U.S. and other western democracies. It is no secret that many young Muslims are being seduced by a slick social media marketing campaign advertising the supposed religious and ideological purity of the Islamic State.
As more young U.S. born Muslims attempt to flee to the Islamic State in order to follow their sincerely held religious beliefs, legal questions concerning the extent of religious freedom will grow more prominent, and challenge the fundamental assumptions of conservative Christians who continue to fight for an ever broader and expansive interpretation of “religious freedom.”
(H/T Sarah Jones)