Hypocritical Freakout over Shari’ah, but Not Biblical Law

A state court judge in Florida has ruled that he will use “Ecclesiastical Islamic Law” to decide whether a dispute between former trustees of the Islamic Education Center of Tampa, Florida, and the mosque itself was properly referred to arbitration by an Islamic scholar.

Fox News and conservative bloggers are freaking out about the long, slow, imaginary march to shari’ah law taking over the Constitution. But they’ve never objected to very similar arrangements made by Christians.

First, the Florida mosque case: according to an article in the St. Petersburg Times, four former trustees of the mosque sued over monetary dispute. Although there is a bit of confusion over the precise sequence of the proceedings, the parties had agreed to submit disputes to arbitration by an a’lim, who decided last December that the former trustees had been ousted improperly. The mosque’s lawyer — who is arguing against the application of Islamic law in the state court — has numerous complaints about how various aspects of the arbitration proceeded. In any case, before the state court judge is the question of whether the arbitration decision is enforceable. According to the article, that is the only aspect of the case in which he would apply Islamic law:

The judge said he would use Islamic law to decide only the legitimacy of arbitration.

“What law would we be applying (at) trial?” [mosque lawyer] Thanasides asked.

“That trial would be civil law,” the judge said. “Florida law.”

Seems pretty straightforward, and not at all a threat to the Constitution. As a law professor correctly noted in the article, “If we both sign a contract agreeing to be governed by German law, then Florida courts will interpret German law.”

Such arrangements are also, notably, quite common in religious settings. Let’s take one example apropros to the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act: the Christian health care sharing ministries who lobbied for and received an exemption from the individual mandate in the law. These ministries (non-profits who receive a tax exemption from the federal government) are membership organizations through which members agree to share in each others’ health care costs, in lieu of insurance. And they also agree not to sue each other.

Samaritan Ministries, whose president, James Lansberry, speaks at Christian Reconstructionist events, is the largest of the health care sharing ministries. Samaritan has about 46,000 members, and there are thought to be 100,000 members of HCSMs nationwide. And even though the exemption in the health care bill was limited to HCSMs and members in existence before the passage of the law, Medi-Share, a Florida HCSM, was last year claiming that 11 million Americans had the ability to join an HCSM and “need not comply with Obamacare.”

Samaritan requires that its members agree not to sue it:

Samaritan Ministries is a community of Christians and its members, as followers of Christ, believe that the Bible commands them to make every effort to live at peace and to resolve disputes with each other in private or within the church (see Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 6:1-8). A member who chooses to violate this command of scripture and his covenant with his SMI brethren, and takes a dispute to court, destroys our fellowship and has chosen to be as if he had never been a Samaritan Ministries member, and to not have his needs shared with the membership. Therefore, in becoming a member or reaffirming your membership, you agree that any claim or dispute you have with, or against SMI, its employees, directors, members and associate members, that is related to SMI and its ministries in any way, shall be settled by Biblically based mediation and, if necessary, legally binding arbitration. And SMI agrees similarly with respect to any matter SMI might have against you.

Shari’ah scare mongers complain that application of shari’ah law threatens the Constitution, most specifically by interfering with the Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial, but also by requiring application of religious law over state law. But what they ignore is the fact that Christians and Jews also make such arrangements in private contracts as well, with nary a peep from conservatives.

Anyone who joins Samaritan agrees to give up their right to sue in court; they agree to be bound by “Biblically based” alternative dispute resolution. That’s their right to choose to give up their right to sue in court, just as (if there was indeed such an agreement) the trustees of the Tampa mosque agreed to submit to arbitration. Imagine, though, that the provision from the Samaritan agreement substituted “Muslims” for “Christians” and “followers of Muhammed” for “followers of Christ” and “Qu’ran” for “Bible,” and so forth.

And imagine further that this had been an Muslim organization with a tax exemption which had hired lobbyists who succeeded in persuading lawmakers that they were entitled to be exempt from a federal law that virtually every other American had to comply with. (To be clear, there are serious legal and political questions about whether any religious group is entitled to such an exemption, barring a demonstration of a burden on their religious practices.) Imagine that the Muslim president of that imaginary organization had, like Lansberry has, accused the federal government of stealing the public’s money. Imagine all of that for a minute. There would have been an unbelievable outcry: the anti-Muslim shari’ah fear-mongers would have claimed the Constitution was under seige and the Christian nation under attack by religiously-motivated seditionists.

These sorts of arrangements — contractual agreements to submit to dispute resolution outside of the courts, with choice-of-law provisions — are commonplace. The anti-Shari’ah propagandists get away with the double standard of only depicting such arrangements between Muslims as anti-American.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email