NASHVILLE, Tenn. (ABP) – The Southern Baptist Convention’s top public-policy expert said June 18 that any imposition of Sharia law by courts in the United States would violate the Constitution.
The president of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission discussed four resolutions adopted last week at the convention’s annual meeting in Phoenix on his weekly call-in radio show, Richard Land Live. One titled "Religious Liberty in a Global Society" opposed among others “the imposition of any system of jurisprudence by which people of different faiths do not enjoy the same legal rights."
“That is aimed, number one, at Sharia law,” Land said. “The imposition of Sharia law as an alternative at any level of the American legal system –- let me be clear about this -– violates the Constitution of the United States.”
The resolution comes at a time when six states are deliberating laws that explicitly ban courts from considering or using Sharia law and 14 more are looking at general bans on relying on “foreign law.” All are inspired by Oklahoma’s popular Sharia ban, approved by more than 70 percent of voters last year but not implemented until courts decide on whether it is constitutional.
Religious groups including the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty argue the Oklahoma law is unconstitutional because it singles out a particular religion for disapproval. When Oklahoma passed the law, Land called it “a preemptive strike” to prevent “judicial imperialists” from legislating from the bench.
Land said June 18 that allowing judges to use Islamic law in cases involving Muslims would violate the First Amendment, which bans the establishment of religion, and the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law. “Women do not have equal rights under Sharia,” Land said.
Land said the Constitution also forbids punishment that is “cruel and unusual.”
“I would argue that stoning an adulterer, cutting off the hand of a thief, those are cruel and unusual punishments,” Land said.
The Southern Baptist leader said the religious liberty resolution – along with statements on immigration, gay marriage and belief in a literal hell -– “sum up nicely why Southern Baptists do resolutions.”
“Why resolutions on a particular subject at a particular time?” he said. “Well, the question of religious liberty in a global society is a huge one today,” he said. He described persecution of Christians in many countries currently spawning freedom movements in Islamic lands known collectively as “Arab Spring.”
Another resolution speaks out on protecting the Defense of Marriage Act, Land said, “Because that’s a hot issue at the moment that is at debate in American society.”
“We believe this is the absolutely critical point where we have to put the Southern Baptist Convention on record as defending marriage as only being between a man and a woman,” Land said, “and that anyone who is doing this in the name of religion is not someone who is coming from a Southern Baptist perspective, or we believe in any way, shape or form, we believe, a biblical or evangelical perspective.”
He said it is unusual for a resolution to call out a person by name, but “considering Rob Bell’s book Love Wins, which has called into question the church’s historical teaching on the doctrine of eternal punishment of the unregenerate, Southern Baptists felt that it was important that there not be any confusion about the Southern Baptist stand on the issue of whether or not there is everlasting punishment.”
The religious liberty resolution opposed the use of zoning laws or permits to restrict religious speech or worship “based on the theological content of speech or worship.”
“Notice that it says on the theological content of that speech or worship,” Land said. “If they are preaching sedition, well that’s not covered by the First Amendment. If they are advocating the violent overthrow of the United States, that’s not covered by the First Amendment.”
Earlier this year Land withdrew from an interfaith coalition opposed to “mosque discrimination” in communities across the United States after hearing complaints from constituents. Land said Southern Baptists believe in religious freedom for everyone, but “drew the line” at denominational leaders filing suit to protect those rights in court when the aggrieved party are Muslims.
Land said many Southern Baptists perceived his involvement as “crossing the line from defense of religious freedom to advocacy of, or promotion of, Islam itself.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.