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.
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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.