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The New York Times recently ran a hit piece on lawyer David Yerushalmi, who has led the charge to stop the rise of shariah law in the United States. With typical anti-religious flair, the newspaper pointed out that Yerushalmi is “a little-known lawyer … a 56-year-old Hasidic Jew with a history of controversial statements about race, immigration, and Islam.”
The Times focuses in on Yerushalmi, as though his Judaic background and love for Israel delegitimize his opposition to shariah. The paper then brings in Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy, whom they criticize for taking “polarizing positions” and being “well connected in neoconservative [read: conservative Jewish] circles.” Finally, they wield their club against the Tea Party, which they somehow link to this whole effort: “With the advent of the Tea Party, Mr. Yerushalmi saw an opening.” They never make clear what the Tea Party has to do with anything; this is just another New York Times attempt to use a putative Tea Party connection as a club on people it disapproves of. .
But leave aside the ad hominem attacks on Yerushalmi and conservatives and focus instead on the Times’ odd contention that shariah law is not a threat. They say that shariah law is just like Jewish law; it’s applied in domestic and civil disputes, and then courts simply enforce it. Of course, this is nonsense. Take, for example, the famed New Jersey case last year in which a Muslim woman tried to get a restraining order against her husband in the aftermath of an assault and rape; the court ruled against her, applying shariah law principles and stating that the husband thought that his wife had to comply with his sexual appetites. There’s nothing remotely like that in Jewish law. Jewish law has its flaws, but Jews routinely repair to the secular courts when such flaws create problems (see for example the complex and troublesome divorce issue in Judaism). And the problems with Jewish civil law don’t begin to approach those of the Islamic community.
Why should the courts uphold the evils intrinsic in shariah? Courts have long held that, for example, upholding racially restrictive covenants violates federal law (Shelley v. Kraemer). Why would courts uphold a foreign and primitive law that allows men to rape their wives? When it comes to conflict between religious freedom and civilized values, civilized values should win out; otherwise, the law, as Dickens once said, “is an ass.” Freedom of religion was never meant to allow barbarity. Under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, Congress stated that federal, state and local laws needed to show a compelling state interest and be minimally restrictive of religious exercise in order to be Constitutional; the Supreme Court struck down the law as too restrictive. Instead, the Supreme Court standard is that a “general law of neutral applicability” is Constitutional – which is why states can stop polygamy.
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