Acton Institute Powerblog

The Dangers of Anti-Sharia Laws

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Anti-sharia legislation being proposed by the Michigan state legislature is being opposed by what may seem like an unlikely group: Catholics.

The Michigan Catholic Conference, citing a potential impact on Catholic canon law, is speaking out against a bill in the Michigan House of Representatives that would prohibit the application of foreign law in Michigan.

The legislation, House Bill 4769, is primarily aimed at prohibiting Muslim Sharia law in the state, but Michigan Catholic Conference President and CEO Paul Long said the bill also could have an adverse effect on canon law, which is the juridical structure that facilitates life and governance in the Catholic Church.

Canon law governs aspects of Catholic life such as church structure and authority, doctrine, the appointment of pastors, the care of objects used in sacred worship, and rules regulating Catholic parishes and schools. In a news release, the MCC said canon law in many cases predates and is even the basis of some civil laws in the western world.

The threat posed by such legislation extends far beyond it’s impact on Catholic canon law. By helping to push the idea that religious beliefs should be kept private, anti-sharia laws are a threat to all of our religious liberties. As legal scholar Robert K. Vischer explained earlier this year in First Things:

Though popular with secularists and religious conservatives, anti-Sharia legislation does not defend against theocracy but calls into question our society’s fundamental commitments to meaningful religious liberty and meaningful access to the courts. These commitments have been relied on by generations of Protestants, Catholics, Mormons, and Jews, and to try to remove them for Muslims both is unjust to Muslims and sets a dangerous precedent for other religious groups.

[. . .]

Before Christian and Jewish believers support such measures, they should consider the way these laws not only misunderstand the faith of their Muslim fellow citizens but threaten their own religious liberty. Muslim Americans who seek to use Sharia are not asking the American legal system to adopt Islamic rules of conduct, penal or otherwise. Muslims have introduced Sharia in court not in an attempt to establish a freestanding source of law binding on litigants but rather in recognition of the norms to which the litigants have already agreed to be bound.

American courts do this every day—it’s called contract law. Even the literature being pumped out by anti-Sharia organizations shows that their target is not the threat posed by the imposition of Sharia on American society but rather the threat posed by the introduction of Sharia according to the same criteria of admissibility applied by courts to other religious codes.

As Visher adds, “the presumption that the deepest core values and convictions of religious Americans threaten the legal order by virtue of their source, without reference to their substance.” If we don’t want Canon law and biblical principles to be terms excluded from American court system, then we can’t let Sharia be excluded either.

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


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  • Christopher Holton

    These objections are without merit. This is either a direct outgrowth of a deliberate attempt to deceive,
    or else the author simply has not read the model ALAC act. Even though
    this “carve-out” is quite unnecessary, for purely political reasons we
    added this section 6 to the model language to attempt to dispose of
    just such arguments:


    [6] No court or arbitrator shall interpret this Act to limit the right
    of any person to the free exercise of religion as guaranteed by the
    First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and by the Constitution of
    this State. No court shall interpret this Act to require or authorize
    any court to adjudicate, or prohibit any religious organization from
    adjudicating, ecclesiastical matters, including, but not limited to,
    the election, appointment, calling, discipline, dismissal, removal or
    excommunication of a member, officer, official, priest, nun, monk,
    pastor, rabbi, imam or member of the clergy, of the religious
    organization, or determination or interpretation of the doctrine of
    the religious organization, where adjudication by a court would
    violate the prohibition of the establishment clause of the First
    Amendment of the United States, or violate the Constitution of this

    In addition, please see question/answer #14 in the FAQs on the American Public Policy Alliance web web site (

    14. American Laws for American Courts would interfere with Jewish law
    or Catholic Canon Law.

    American Laws for American Courts would not interfere with Jewish law
    because Jewish law has a provision inherent which instructs people of
    the Jewish faith to follow the law of the land in which they live.
    Moreover, ALAC only applies when the use of a foreign legal doctrine
    in a court would violate someone’s constitutional rights or state
    public policy. This is not the case with Jewish law.

    Moreover, the model ALAC language contains specific language in
    recognition of the fact that it cannot be applied in such a way that
    would interfere with a church, religious corporation, association, or
    society, with respect to the individuals of a particular religion
    regarding matters that are purely ecclesiastical, to include, but not
    be limited to, matters of calling a pastor, excluding members from a
    church, electing church officers, matters concerning church bylaws,
    constitution, and doctrinal regulations and the conduct of other
    routine church business, where 1) the jurisdiction of the church would
    be final; and 2) the jurisdiction of the courts of this State would be
    contrary to the First Amendment of the United States and the
    Constitution of this State.


    Finally, attorney Robert Muise has addressed these and other bogus attempts to degrade the defense of fundamental constitutional rights in an excellent, informative video on the subject: