Unintended Consequences

The Wild Hunt is 100% reader supported by readers like you. Your support helps us pay our writers and editors, as well as cover the other bills to keep the news coming to you ad free. If you can, use the button below to make a one-time donation - or become a monthly sustainer. Thank you for reading The Wild Hunt!

While most coverage of last week’s election focused on the national Republican wave, there were all sorts of things being voted on in addition to the politician with an R (or D) next to their name. For example, Oklahoma voters approved a measure that would ban the application of Sharia law in their state.

“This measure amends the State Constitution. It changes a section that deals with the courts of this state. It would amend Article 7, Section 1. It makes courts rely on federal and state law when deciding cases. It forbids courts from considering or using international law. It forbids courts from considering or using Sharia Law. International law is also known as the law of nations. It deals with the conduct of international organizations and independent nations, such as countries, states and tribes. It deals with their relationship with each other. It also deals with some of their relationships with persons.”

Last year, as ThinkProgress points out, Oklahoma passed, with many of the same backers, the Ten Commandments Monument Display Act, which ordered “a monument to the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol” to be erected, and goes on at some length about how Biblical law has influenced American law and judicial decisions. Well, no longer, according to Rick Tepker, a member of the University of Oklahoma School of Law faculty.

“Many of us who understand the law are scratching our heads this morning, laughing so we don’t cry,” he said. “I would like to see Oklahoma politicians explain if this means that the courts can no longer consider the Ten Commandments. Isn’t that a precept of another culture and another nation? The result of this is that judges aren’t going to know when and how they can look at sources of American law that were international law in origin.”

Oops! Aside from the foot-shooting irony at play here, the main problem was overreach. You see, many of the activists/politicians/pundits really, really worried about the implementation of Sharia law are also very, very, concerned about Americans being subject to “international law”, and want us to pull out of the UN and ban US judges from considering legal precedents from other countries when making decisions. The problem is who decides what’s “international law”? The Ten Commandments certainly weren’t written in Oklahoma.

Now, this amendment is being challenged, and may never be enforced (and for some very good reasons), but what a lost opportunity! Imagine a gay marriage decision where judge is banned from even “considering” Christian law! Pagan custody cases and religious discriminations cases would have to be decided on secular law alone without a hint of Christianity lest the case be open to challenge. But this is just an idle musing on my part, in the end this amendment will be rolled back because there are too many unintended consequences to deal with.

“It’s hard for me to believe the current surge of paranoia about Sharia law, and growing hostility to any kind of accommodations to our Muslim minority, won’t ultimately unleash forces of intolerance that will undercut our [Judaism’s] own hard-won games as a religious minority with special needs. This also touches on the issue of religious land use, which I blogged about the other day, and the idea that the surge of hostility to Islam that is already resulting in fierce resistance to mosque building projects across the nation will almost certainly come back to bite us.”

If these legislators and voters were really as concerned about “creeping Sharia” on American soil as they say they are then we should be more concerned about integrating Muslims into secular American society than alienating them by passing dodgy laws and cranking the rhetoric up to “11”. However, even if you think we need to enact nationwide bans on Sharia law and pass draconian laws to “control” the Muslim “problem”, there’s still one issue all religious minorities need to consider. If we allow ourselves to single out a faith for censure in our law-making, no matter how noble we believe we’re being in the process, how long before that slippery slope is turned towards the next belief system to cause anxiety?

It seems ridiculous, but there was a time when mainstream politicians were working to ban Pagans from the military. There was a time, not so long ago, when innocent men and women were being locked up for imaginary “Satanic” crimes (with some still in prison awaiting justice). Some Witches and Pagans were so paranoid during that time that they were more than ready to throw actual Satanists under the bus. It isn’t so hard to envision a new moral panic to come ’round the bend and catch us in its sights once the Muslim threat stops being politically expedient. Or maybe it will be Santeria getting conflated with illegal immigration and drug-running, or Vodou being blamed for our economic hardships, the roulette wheel of fear is always turning and you never know when or where it will stop.

When you play around with our laws and constitutions to score political points there are always unintended consequences. The further we stray from our core principles because we fear the “creeping” menace of some religion, philosophy, or political party the more we open ourselves up to injury. The more we feed the beast of fear, the hungrier it gets. Stir in bad economic times and entrenched polarization and you flirt with disaster. As Pagans we need to be be wary of any “solution” that focuses on a single people, faith, or way of thinking, lest we find ourselves on the next ballot initiative.