The bishops, their allies, and religious freedom for Muslims

One response many people had to the USCCB statement "Our First, Most Cherished Liberty" was that the list of examples of current and recent threats to religious freedom in the United States seemed narrower than it could and should have been. In an article posted to our website on Thursday, "Not a Muslim Issue? What's Missing from the Bishops' Statement on Religious Freedom," Gregory Metzger writes, "One phenomenon [the bishops] might easily have mentioned is the rise of 'anti-sharia' laws in the United States." There have been a number of attempts to restrict the supposed application of "sharia law" in American courts, which are part of a broader effort to resist the alleged Muslim plot to tear down American freedom from within. Targeting Muslims in this way is plainly an attempt to curb their religious liberty; where these laws succeed, they also threaten religious liberty in general. Metzger notes that many supporters of the bishops' recent campaign against the HHS contraception mandate have also protested the rise of anti-sharia legislation:

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, arguably the organization most in line with the bishops objections to the HHS mandate, has been on the record for years in strong opposition to anti-sharia rhetoric and laws. In 2010, the fund's Asma Uddin wrote that these laws reflected political advantage-seeking and fear of Muslims and were infecting segments of the national political discourse, despite [their] inherent absurdity.

However, allies of the bishops in the fight against the mandate are also among those promoting anti-sharia laws. Metzger cites the Thomas More Law Center, which has been outspoken in its opposition to the HHS mandate -- and which is handling a lawsuit on behalf of Legatus, as Cathleen Kaveny noted earlier this month. The TMLC also alleges on its website that "Radical Muslims and Islamic organizations in America take advantage of our legal system and are waging a 'Stealth Jihad' within our borders. Their aim is to transform America into an Islamic nation." The TMLC's highly selective view of religious liberty is a poor partner for the bishops in their fight.

As it happens, the day after we published Metzger's article, the Becket Fund issued a challenge to the TMLC in a press release: "Religious Liberty Is Everyone's Right -- Not Just Christians." The statement, signed by William P. Mumma, Mary Ann Glendon, and Robert P. George, is a response to a pugilistic tweet from the TMLC's Director of Mission Advancement, Tom Lynch: "Believe Islam a religion, then support the Becket Fund. Believe it will destroy US, then supt thomasmore.org." Awkward for the Becket Fund, which is a member of the "Coalition to Stop the HHS Mandate," a group that has been organizing "Stand Up for Religious Freedom" rallies. The TMLC's president, Richard Thompson, delivered an alarmingly militaristic speech at a recent "Stand Up" rally, as Metzger notes in his article. The TMLC promotes this speech on its website, quoting some of Thompson's applause lines, including "Peace is not our goal. Righteousness is our goal. It is our duty to resist." As Metzger argues, bedfellows like this can only damage the bishops' credibility and compromise any genuine effort to protect religious liberty. The Becket Fund's stand is a necessary one and a welcome one.

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.

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