Fanatics and Freedom

By Jacob Bender, Executive Director
Timothy N. Welbeck, Esq., Civil Rights Attorney
Ahmet Selim Tekelioglu, Outreach and Education Director

It has been one of the foundational principles of democratic nations that the law exists as a guarantor of liberty. From the Magna Carta to the American Declaration of Independence, from the French Declaration of Rights of Man to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the march of history can be seen as the expansion of freedom to ever greater numbers of the Earth’s inhabitants.

Yet there is no record any place and at any time of the powerful voluntarily ceding power so that “justice [might] roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” On the contrary, those with power quite often mount campaigns of their own, counter-revolutions that seek to denigrate and indeed destroy the people’s quest for peace and justice so that they might hold on the power they have acquired through violence and outright theft. (How else to describe Europe’s colonization of the lands of Islam, when through much of the 19th Century, over 90% of the world’s Muslims lived under European domination?)

We now find ourselves living through one of these counter-revolutions, an attempt by white supremacists, free-marketers and the hypocrites of the Religious Right to destroy nearly a century of progressive legislation on racial justice, women’s equality, religious freedom, environmental protection, and the expansion of the social safety net.

It is certainly no exaggeration to claim that American Muslims and the faith of Islam in particular have been favorite targets of the Trumpian counter-revolution, the Islamophobic alt-Right, and the propaganda of Fox News. In its effort to demonize all things Muslim, the Trump Regime has turned the law on its head, utilizing it as a mechanism to persecute the powerless, rather than as a means to protect the meek. (Should there be any doubt left about the inherent cruelty of this administration, the sight of small children forcibly separated from their parents should put that issue to rest.)

This perversion of the law now takes the form of a tripartite attack on the Muslim community, described below.

I. The “Muslim Travel Ban”

Like a humanoid monster from a Hollywood horror film (think Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator I), the Muslim Travel Ban refuses to die. Killed off as unconstitutional by lower courts, the Travel Ban keeps being resuscitated by the Muslim-obsessed fanatics that now govern the Republic.

Within the next few days, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is expected to render its highly-anticipated decision in the case Trump v. Hawaii, which may at last rule on the constitutionality of the so-called “Muslim Travel Bans.”

At issue is: (1) whether the State of Hawaii’s challenge to the president’s suspension of entry of aliens abroad is justiciable; (2) whether the Muslim Ban itself is a lawful exercise of the president’s authority to suspend entry of aliens abroad; (3) whether the global injunction barring enforcement of the proclamation’s entry suspensions worldwide is impermissibly overbroad; and (4) whether the proclamation violates the establishment clause of the Constitution.

CAIR-Philadelphia has previously argued that the Trump administration’s Muslim Travel Ban is inherently bigoted, xenophobic, and ultimately rooted in contempt for Islam. President Trump has made his discriminatory motivations clear since launching his presidential campaign. Most notably on December 7, 2015, as a candidate, he called for a “total and complete shutdown” of the entry of Muslims to the United States “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” Since becoming president, Mr. Trump has repeatedly attempted to ban Muslims from entering the United States.

During the past eight months, both the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit have ruled against the Ban. We remain optimistic that the Supreme Court will similarly rule, and prohibit the Trump administration from implementing this brazen form of discrimination.

At its core, Trump v. Hawaii is about the constitutional right to religious freedom, one of our country’s foundational rights. SCOTUS now has a historic opportunity to protect this right, now under attack from the highest office in the land.

II. Anti-Sharia Legislation

Another tactic of the Islamophobic campaign to demonize the American Muslims community are the so-called “Anti-Sharia” bills now making their way through the legislatures of several states. One such ignorant and bigoted bill has recently been introduced in the Delaware Legislature, replete with broad misrepresentations about the content of sharia, the broad collection of Islamic rulings and ethics that guide Muslim life.

The Delaware bill is sponsored by Republican State Senator Dave G. Lawson, the author of an earlier failed piece of legislation from 2015. Two other Delaware state senators have now joined with Lawson in attempts to spread fear about the Muslim faith, distorting the truth, and creating a toxic atmosphere that breeds ignorance and hate.

Like the Muslim Travel Ban, the anti-sharia bills present themselves as cautionary measures but are in practice the stuff of xenophobia and hate.

III. Anti-BDS Legislation

The third tactic of the Islamophobic campaign to demonize the American Muslim community are the so-called anti-BDS bills currently being introduced on the both the federal and state level.

For those who may not be aware, BDS stands for the movement to Boycott, Divest, and Sanction the State of Israel as a form of economic and social pressure aiming to force Israel to abandon its human rights abuses and end its occupation of Palestinian lands. Sadly, pro-Israel activists and organizations (such as the Anti-Defamation League) have, in their zeal to shield Israel from any public criticism of its policies, adopted tactics that many (CAIR-Philadelphia included) believe are nothing short than an attack of the First Amendment and its ringing declaration of the Right to Free Speech.

Recently, two versions of the so-called “Israel Anti-Boycott Act” — S.720 co-sponsored by Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Rob Portman (R-OH), and H.R.1697 sponsored by Representative Peter Roskam (R-IL) — were introduced in Congress in Washington, DC. The proposed legislation would punish and fine American businesses for supporting or participating in certain political boycotts of Israel to protest its massive violation of Palestinian human rights. While we oppose the substance of this legislation, we should also note that if enacted, this act would suppress first amendment rights as well. Additionally, we should also remember that SCOTUS has previously ruled — in NAACP v. Claiborne, 1966 — that boycotts are constitutionally protected manifestations of the right of free speech.

While CAIR-Philadelphia will continue to work in broad coalitions with people and organizations with whom we disagree with on the oft-contentious issue of Israel and Palestine, there should be no disagreement regarding the sanctity of free speech here in the United States. CAIR-Philadelphia therefore urges you to write your Senators and Representatives and demand that they oppose S.720 and H.R.1697.

Finally, no matter the Court’s decision on the Muslim Travel Ban, no matter the fate of the Anti-BDS or Anti-Sharia bills, we at CAIR-Philadelphia will continue to work every day to protect the First Amendment rights of American Muslims, and indeed, Americans of all faith backgrounds.

Rarely is justice achieved without setbacks in the ebb and flow of history. A supreme court which once defended slavery in the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and the Dred Scott Case of 1857, and protected American apartheid in Plessy v Ferguson of 1896, would later expand civil rights for all Americans in such rulings as Brown v Board of Education of 1954, Gideon v Wainwright of 1963, and Miranda v Arizona of 1966.

As Dr. Martin Luther King reminded us, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”