Legalizing Othering

Key Findings

Key Findings 

The "anti-Sharia law" movement did not originate within a vacuum, but has been garnering support and influence since 9/11. The movement has taken advantage of, and contributed to, the increasingly volatile climate of anti-Muslim sentiment and racial anxiety, fueled by key political moments and conservative movements, particularly the Tea Party and the birther movements. 

The majority of anti-Sharia legislation were introduced in the years prior to midterm and presidential election cycles. For example, 56 bills were introduced in 2011, 35 bills were introduced in 2013, and 35 bills were introduced in 2015. By contrast, 14, 25, 15, and 14 anti-Sharia bills were introduced in the election years of 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016, respectively. This highlights a trend among lawmakers to push anti-Muslim legislation in the runup to midterm and presidential election cycles.

Although the target of the antiforeign law ALAC legislation is Sharia law, the term Sharia, or Sharia law, is omitted entirely from the American Laws for American Courts model act in an attempt to appear “facially neutral,” and to avoid specifically naming Sharia law in the text of the bills. There are, however, several anti-Sharia bills that have been introduced by state legislators that explicitly prohibit courts from considering or applying Sharia law.

Actors and groups advancing the anti-Sharia movement have also been extremely influential in spearheading campaign efforts around anti-refugee legislation, specifically in opposition to Syrian refugee resettlement in the US. 

The push for anti-Sharia legislation by lawmakers in the years prior to midterm and presidential election cycles provides a platform to normalize, legitimize, and proliferate Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment in the American public and in political debates.

If anti-Sharia bills are enacted into law they may restrict the freedoms of other religious groups that look to religious arbitration. 

A total of 140 bills were introduced that extracted language from the ALAC model act. The American Public Policy Alliance and ACT for America were the two main groups promoting the bills, or were at least the most visible direct supporters of the bills. 

From 2010 to 2016, 194 anti-Sharia bills have been introduced in 39 states—of these, 18 have been enacted into law, 176 have not been enacted, and 1 bill has been struck down in Oklahoma.

The overwhelming majority of state legislators acting as the primary sponsors for anti-Sharia bills were Republican lawmakers: 373 were Republicans, nine were Democrats, and three were independent or nonpartisan. 

A total of 121 bills included stipulations in their language to exempt corporations, allowing corporations to enter into contracts and agreements that call for the application of a foreign law. An additional 73 bills did not provide for this exemption, or did not specifically mention corporations in their text.

Almost all of the bills introduced bar courts from enforcing individuals’ contracts and agreements that call for the application of foreign law. A total of 191 bills bar the enforcement of individual contracts, and an additional three bills do not include this stipulation. 

The discriminatory effects of the anti-Sharia bills introduced, and their affiliated legislative campaigns, were apparent in their aim to: instigate an unfounded and nonviable fear of Sharia law; other Islam and Muslims; foment a climate of intolerance toward Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim; and inhibit Muslims from engaging with their religion. 

The direct and indirect impacts of anti-Sharia legislation are yet to be fully exposed. There is a need for people to be vocal when issues of bigotry and discrimination arise from anti-Muslim laws.

Thirty-three state lawmakers sponsored two or more antiSharia bills in their state. State lawmakers who sponsored multiple anti-Sharia or anti-Muslim bills were all Republican. Overall, 385 lawmakers were the primary sponsors for anti-Muslim bills introduced or enacted in state legislatures across the country.