Tennessee Republicans' recent Sharia law proposal continues to be reported as just a worse version of the state bans on courts considering Sharia that are popping up in conservative states. But while those bans could cause some real mischief and suffering, Tennessee's law is of a great magnitude worse, and I don't think it's been adequately explained why.
A few months ago, there was a big dispute over the construction of an Islamic community center in Murfeesboro, Tennessee. Opponents of the project sued in court, where they actually tried to argue that Islam wasn't a religion, using the kind of language contained in the new Sharia proposal, which suggests that Sharia directs Muslims to overthrow the United States government. One of the people who testified was Frank Gaffney, whose associate, David Yerushalmi, is the author of the new Tennessee bill. The opponents of the Murfeesboro Islamic center argued that the builders had a secret agenda to impose Taliban-style Islamic law in the U.S.
Now in that case, which included an intervention from the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, the judge ruled in the Islamic center's favor. But if this new legislation becomes law, they wouldn't have to go through the courts at all. That's because the law essentially allows Tennessee to have its own counterterrorism policy, empowering the state attorney general to freeze the assets of any organization designated a "Sharia organization," much in the same way the federal government goes after the financial transactions of designated terrorist groups.
So instead of having to put forth their ridiculous arguments before a judge in order to block the construction of Muslim religious buildings, Muslim-haters in Tennessee would simply have to persuade the state attorney general to designate the local congregation a "Sharia organization" and freeze their assets. No need to get the courts involved when the state can arbitrarily declare you a terrorist for practicing your religion. It's not just mosques and community centers either -- Gaffney recently suggested a network of Islamic charter and private schools founded by a Turkish imam named Fethullah Gülen were part of an attempt to form a global caliphate. The schools are seen by many observers as a moderating influence.
Point is, if you think the incessant accusations of sedition from Islamophobes are frivolous, imagine what they would be like backed by the full force of a state government.
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