Monday, February 24, 2014

The ‘Islam is different’ argument

    Monday, February 24, 2014   No comments

BY EUGENE VOLOKH

[This is my last post serializing my just-published article, Religious Law (Especially Islamic Law) in American Courts, 66 Okla. L. Rev. 431 (2014); you can see the posts so far here.]

I have argued that many (though not all) of the things that are condemned as intrusions of Islamic law into American law are actually the applications of traditional American legal principles. Those who believe in equal treatment without regard to religion, I have argued, should extend to Muslims the benefits of those principles just as Christians, Jews and others can take advantage of those principles.
Some, however, have argued that Islam should not be treated the same as those other religions. One line of argument goes so far as to say (in the words of noted televangelist and political figure Pat Robertson) that “Islam is not a religion. It is a political system bent on world domination.”[111]


It’s hard to figure out exactly what the first part of this means. What constitutes a religion for legal purposes can be fuzzy around the edges,[112] but surely Islam — a prominent system of beliefs about God and God’s supposed commands to mankind — must qualify.[113] The argument, I assume, must be that Islam, though it is a religion, is not simply a religion but is also a political ideology and therefore loses its status as a religion for, say, religious accommodation purposes.
But that can’t be right. Many religions, especially many strands of Christianity, are “political system[s]” in the sense that they create an agenda for political action. The conservative Christian political program of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and others is one example.[114] The “liberation theology” followed by some liberal Catholics is another.[115]

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