The Oregon Republican Party needs to be better than SB 479

By Eric Shierman


As the chaos of a half-baked visa ban swirls, further undermining America’s status in the world as a beacon of freedom, let alone stability, a similarly foolish policy choice in Oregon has been sponsored by Senator Brian Boquist. SB 479 would ban consideration of Sharia Law in Oregon courts.

I certainly don’t want to live under a medieval legal system, but since the probability of this happening is zero, we don’t need to sweat whether or not this bill will get a committee vote (it won’t). We need to worry about how low-brow gestures like this help fuel the irrational fear of the fine people of Islamic faith that live among us.

Just as we don’t see Dylann Roof as a proxy for American Christians, it would be unreasonable to let our bias-prone minds imagine the San Bernardino shooters were representative of American Muslims. Just as there are some obscure Christians out there who dream of America under a Christian theocracy no doubt there is an even more obscure Muslim somewhere in this state, dreaming of an Oregon Revised Statute that punishes theft with the severing of the convict’s hand.

The truly representative Muslims among us are normal people like you and me: engineers at Intel, restaurant owners, and ordinary decent human beings. America cannot be great without them.

There are actually sensible ways in which Oregon Courts use Sharia Law in their decision making. Muslims sometimes enter into private legal contracts that specify Sharia to define terms. If such a contract went into litigation, SB 479 would invalidate the legitimate enforcement of a contract, the bedrock role of the state in facilitating a free market economy.

With the precedent of Burwell v Hobby Lobby, our religious conscious is now robustly protected as a matter of constitutional law. At times these cases have required scripture and even Canon Law as evidence. SB 479 would deny Oregon Muslims equal protection, barring them from using Sharia as evidence in any such future case they might find themselves in. Though the probability that this embarrassing piece of legislation would ever be passed is the same probability a reader of the Oregon Catalyst will ever find himself oppressed by a Sharia statute, if it were made into Oregon law, that articulate federal appeals court judge that decided in favor of Hobby Lobby when this case reached the 10th Circuit, Neil Gorsuch, would likely join a unanimous Supreme Court in striking it down.

Having nothing to do with a real threat, this quixotic impulse to ban Sharia Law is merely an attempt to undermine the Muslim community’s standing in Oregon, to publicly say that they will never be real Americans until they renounce their faith. We have some Christian bakers in this state that have seen that movie before. SB 479 is not just wrong; it’s strategically unwise, undermining a winning position Republicans have as defenders of religious liberty.

Eric Shierman lives in Salem and is the author of a Brief History of Political Cultural Change.