Legalizing Othering

State Legislation

State Legislation

THIS SECTION HIGHLIGHTS key themes, patterns and trends identified in the findings of our exhaustively-researched public database and repository of all anti-Muslim bills introduced, enacted, or not enacted, at the state level between 2000 and 2016. In discussing the discriminatory intent, and effects of anti-Sharia legislation, this section highlights the negative impact of this legislation on all communities in American society. Further, in drawing on key patterns and trends of the anti-Sharia legislation, the complex network of forces behind anti-Muslim legislation and legislative campaigns, and their mutual focus on anti-refugee settlement, are exposed.

A Solution in Search of a Problem

The American Laws for American Courts (ALAC) model legislation prevents state judges from considering foreign laws in their rulings,234 emphasizing that:

Any court, arbitration, tribunal, or administrative agency ruling or decision shall violate the public policy of this State and be void and unenforceable if the court, arbitration, tribunal, or administrative agency bases its rulings or decisions in the matter at issue in whole or in part on any law, legal code or system that would not grant the parties affected by the ruling or decision the same fundamental liberties, rights, and privileges granted under the U.S. and [State] Constitutions…235

The anti-Sharia bills are championed by their supporters as a defense for American constitutional protections and liberties against foreign laws, specifically Sharia.236 Proponents of the bills argue that the “infiltration” of Sharia in US courts represents the Islamization of the West, and that Sharia is fundamentally in conflict with the United States Constitution and state public policy.237 A common and inflammatory misconception by such proponents is the belief that Muslim Americans want to replace US legal systems and US law with Sharia, forcing all Americans to abide by Sharia.238 However, despite what proponents might claim, the anti-Sharia bills are discriminatory, bigoted, and unconstitutional, and as many have observed, are a solution in search of a problem.239

Abed Awad, an attorney and expert on Sharia and foreign law, specifies that in addition to fueling Islamophobia, anti-Sharia statutes will also have a negative impact on the US legal system, ultimately transforming the everyday decisions made in US courtrooms by the enactment of such laws.240 One such example of this includes when a husband and wife, who are married in accordance to Sharia and possess an Islamic marriage contract, seek to divorce one another. In the marriage contract there is typically a clause that states the agreed-upon mahr, or dowry amount, that the wife would receive if she and her husband were to divorce. If the couple seeking a divorce resides in Alabama—a state that has enacted anti-Sharia legislation—an Alabama judge would not be able to enforce the marriage contract and honor the dowry as stipulated in the marriage contract. This is solely because the contract applies Sharia, despite this marriage contract not contradicting with the state law of Alabama or the Constitution. In this case, the wife would not receive the dowry that was legally guaranteed to her, infringing on the Muslim woman’s freedom to contract, free exercise of religion, and her right to equal protection.241 In addition to opponents arguing the unfounded fear of Sharia, or the unsubstantiated need to enact the bills, further opposition stems from the hypocrisy that the legislation would endanger the same liberties and freedoms the laws are supposedly designed to protect. In 2013, Governor Jeremiah Nixon of Missouri pointedly disapproved of SB 267, or the Civil Liberties Defense Act, vetoing the bill on the grounds that the “Senate Substitute for Senate Bill No. 267 seeks to introduce a solution to a problem that does not exist,” and that the legislation would unnecessarily interfere with Missouri’s legal system.242 He continued, stating that: 

All foreign legal systems can be argued to be “inconsistent” with our state and federal constitutions, Senate Substitute for Senate Bill No. 267 would needlessly cast doubt upon important legal instruments including wills, trusts, marriage and divorce decrees and contracts that involve foreign law… [the bill] is misguided, unnecessary and needlessly undermines certainty in important areas of the law. Missourians expect and deserve a judicial system that is both fair and predictable. Senate Substitute for Senate Bill No. 267 fails to meet that very basic standard and does not receive my approval.243

The anti-Sharia movement undermines the US constitutional system and the authority vested in US state judges by claiming that anti-Sharia legislation is needed to prevent court decisions from being influenced by Sharia, when in reality the applicability of foreign law is always determined by American law.244 The Constitution establishes that foreign law does not supplant state law or American law, as American law dictates how, and if, foreign law can be applied, meaning, foreign law cannot supersede or replace the United States Constitution.245 This de-legitimizes the American Laws for American Courts legislation and, as explained by Laila Abdelaziz, Legislative & Government Affairs Director of CAIR, Florida, “proponents of anti-Sharia laws or foreign law bans have failed to cite any instance of a US judge applying Islamic or foreign law in a way that violates an American’s rights. These laws are not necessary because there simply is no history or record of Islamic or foreign law trumping US constitutional rights in US courts.” 246iv

Interview Excerpt: Hassan Shibly on the Islamophobic Objectives of anti-Sharia Legislation


The best description of the anti-Sharia legislation are “solutions in search of a problem,” or even “nonsense in search of a problem.” There’s no probable court enforcing or applying foreign laws or foreign principles. This isn’t something we’ve seen, there’s already this principle in the law that courts cannot enforce agreements that are unconscionable, or completely contrary to the rules of justice. A court isn’t going to enforce an agreement saying that a woman can never see her children, or a husband can never see his children, not unless there is a justifiable safety reason to have that agreement. Generally, a court would come to a conscionable agreement. There’s already sufficient protection where a judge can’t simply enforce any laws they wish, they can only enforce the state law, and the state law already provides that unconscionable agreements shall not be enforced, but it also provides that people are free to enter into contracts of their own choosing. The anti-Sharia laws started out with the intent to completely outlaw the entire Muslim faith. They couldn’t do that, so then they were trying to stop Muslims from having their contracts honored by the courts, and that would generally fall into areas of divorce, business transactions, and wills. The anti-Sharia laws themselves are blatantly contrary to the Constitution and freedom of religion enshrined in the Bill of Rights. 

Although the focus of the ALAC legislation is "Sharia law," the term Sharia is omitted entirely from the American Laws for American Courts model act. However, a number of state legislatures such as Oregon (SB 176),247 Missouri (HJR 31),248 New Mexico (SJR 18),249 and others have drafted their own anti-foreign law bills or constitutional amendments that explicitly prohibit courts from considering or applying Sharia.250 Yerushalmi intentionally avoided mentioning Sharia in the ALAC model legislation, and focused the legislation more broadly on foreign law, using “facially neutral” language to produce the same results while “avoiding the sticky problems of our First Amendment jurisprudence.”251 By using superficially harmless language and by abstaining from naming the real target of the law, it would appear as if the strategy for ALAC was to quickly enact as many anti-Sharia bills in as many states as possible, yet, Yerushalmi had an ulterior motive greater than introducing or enacting the model legislation. As he explains it, “if this thing [ALAC] passed in every state without any friction, it would have not served its purpose… The purpose was heuristic — to get people asking this question, ‘What is Shariah?’”252

Yerushalmi strategically used the bills and their affiliated legal campaigns as a means to create friction, and influence public sentiment and opinion regarding Sharia, Islam, and ultimately Muslims. This propelled Islamophobia into cities and towns across the US that had never heard of Sharia, let alone perceived Sharia as a threat to their constitutional rights or way of life. In doing so, the legislative campaigns have fostered a fear of “creeping Sharia,” repurposing that fear towards Muslims who are framed as suspects, and a threat to non-Muslim Americans for practicing their faith.253

Themes of anti-Sharia legislation

Based on the facts that reveal the discriminatory intent and motivation of the anti-Sharia legislation, an analysis of the common threads and language that comprise these bills was conducted in order to further expose the reality that the bills are not concerned—as proponents claim—with protecting American rights and freedoms, but rather are deeply vested in disempowering Muslim Americans. Through a detailed reading and analysis of the 194 anti-Sharia bills introduced between 2010–16, three common themes were identified among the majority of the anti-Sharia bills. These common themes help solidify and ground the premise that the American Laws for American Courts and other versions of the anti-foreign law bill are in nature, anti-Muslim bills. The bills, backed by anti-Muslim campaigns, seek to incite a culture and politic that normalizes scapegoating, hate, fear, and the denial of constitutional rights and protections of Muslim Americans. 

The bill uses ALAC language

Of the 194 bills introduced, 140 bills used ALAC model language, while an additional 54 anti-Sharia bills do not. The sponsors of the bills that used ALAC model language replicated sections of the ALAC model act in their adapted version of the bill, as demonstrated in the Alabama Senate Bill 40 introduced in 2012 by Senator Gerald Allen, entitled, “American and Alabama Laws for Alabama Courts Amendment,”254 as well as many others. ALAC at its core is anti-Muslim, given the intent of the legislation, which seeks to single out Muslims and to strip them of their legal rights and protections. The prevalence and use of the anti-Muslim model act by lawmakers has been a successful strategy in framing Sharia as a totalitarian threat, centering Sharia as an issue of national security despite any evidence to the contrary.255

The bill allows courts to exempt corporations

[5] Without prejudice to any legal right, this act shall not apply to a corporation, partnership, limited liability company, business association, or other legal entity that contracts to subject itself to foreign law in a jurisdiction other than this state or the United States.256

A total of 121 anti-Sharia bills have been introduced that exempt corporations, while 73 bills do not exempt corporations or do not reference corporations in the text of the bill. The legislation imparts a double standard by allowing corporations to enter into contracts that look to foreign laws, while simultaneously denying Muslim Americans the right to freedom of contract without government restrictions, and thus infringes on Muslims’ civil liberties. This exemption stems from pressure by business lobbyists expressing a concern about the possible ramifications of the statutes, and states wanting to remain favorable to business, as corporations oftentimes opt for foreign laws in contracts or tort disputes.257 Yerushalmi admits that providing a loophole in the anti-Sharia legislation for corporations to conduct business-as-usual is “not preferable,” however, “is it an acceptable political compromise? Of course it is.”258 Despite this stipulation in the overwhelming majority of the bills, states that enact ALAC or ALAC-inspired anti-Sharia legislation are creating a hostile environment for arbitration, and enabling consequences for business transactions.259

Interview Excerpt: Saeed Khan on the Role of Political Fearmongering around ‘Creeping Sharia’ in Advancing anti-Sharia Bills 


The anti-Sharia bills are enacted by politicians who want to demonstrate that they are on the vanguard of erecting preemptive firewalls against a purported foreign threat from within the country. Of course, it is predicated upon the false premise that Muslims are in fact seeking not only to have Sharia implemented, but that Sharia is somehow incompatible and threatening to the US Constitution and even the entire American judicial system. Oftentimes, Sharia is accused of being a ‘Trojan Horse’ whereby Muslims will first seek the implementation of its more benign elements and then slowly seek to subvert society by having it codified in its entirety. The fear mongering comes when Islamophobes cite examples of the hudud (corporal and capital punishment) aspects of Sharia as well as the provisions that describe the treatment of non-Muslims who are subject to Sharia. It also creates a chilling effect for Muslims who may seek recognition of some aspect of religious law, e.g. family law, estate planning matters, etc. by the courts in the same manner as religious accommodations are made for other faith traditions, e.g. divorce for Jewish communities, kashrut dietary regulations, etc.

The bill bars courts from enforcing individuals’ contracts and agreements

[3] A contract or contractual provision (if severable) which provides for the choice of a law, legal code or system to govern some or all of the disputes between the parties adjudicated by a court of law or by an arbitration panel arising from the contract mutually agreed upon shall violate the public policy of this State and be void and unenforceable if the law, legal code or system chosen includes or incorporates any substantive or procedural law, as applied to the dispute at issue, that would not grant the parties the same fundamental liberties, rights, and privileges granted under the U.S. and [State] Constitutions, including but not limited to due process, freedom of religion, speech, or press, and any right of privacy or marriage as specifically defined by the constitution of this state.260

Of the 194 bills introduced, 191 bar courts from enforcing individuals’ contracts and agreements, while an additional three bills do not bar courts from enforcing individuals’ contracts or the text of the bills do not reference individual contracts.

This stipulation of the bills, found in the ALAC model act, violates the Establishment Clause261 and the Free Exercise Clause262 of the First Amendment of the Constitution, and clearly attests to the bills’ unconstitutionality. The provision infringes on an individual’s right to freedom of contract, preventing contracts and agreements that call for the application of foreign law—such as a marriage contract or a business contract that was drawn up in accordance to Sharia—from being enforced because the legislation bars state courts from interpreting and applying foreign law in order to recognize the contracts.263 Sharia contracts are, and will continue to be, enforced by US courts as long as they are not in violation of the established law or public policy; however, as was evidenced, an anti-Sharia ban would strip judges of their ability to fully and fairly consider these cases.264

Discriminatory Effects of anti-Sharia Legislation

In addition to the common themes that were extracted solely from an analysis of the language found in the bills, our research identified discriminatory effects of the bills that apply to all anti-Sharia legislation introduced in the United States between 2010 and 2016. Building from the common themes, these discriminatory effects were established by analyzing the larger implications and intent of the bills as well as the intent of the bills’ legislative campaigns. This section of the report analyzes the following effects of anti-Sharia legislation:

  • Instigates an unfounded and nonviable fear among the American society that Sharia will infiltrate the US legal system.
  • Increases mistrust, fearmongering, and othering of Islam/Muslims.
  • Foments a climate of intolerance, which increases the likelihood of hate crimes being perpetrated against Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim.
  • Negatively impacts and inhibits Muslims from engaging with their religion as related to marriage contracts, business contracts, trusts, and estates.

Despite the attempt to identify these effects, direct and indirect impacts of the anti-Sharia legislation have yet to be fully exposed. There is a need for individuals and companies to not only document, but also vocalize issues of bigotry and discrimination when they arise from these anti-Muslim laws.265

The bill instigates an unfounded fear among the American society that Sharia will infiltrate the US legal system

The term "Sharia law" has been appropriated as a “scare-word,” that many have little or no understanding of in order to escalate the public’s fear of Muslims.266 Proponents of the anti-Sharia measures, such as former US House Speaker Newt Gingrich, has been quoted stating that, “Shariah is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and in the world as we know it.”267

Another staunch supporter of the anti-Muslim bills, Florida Republican Senator Alan Hays has sponsored four bills in his home state and likened Sharia to a disease, claiming that his anti-Sharia bills would serve—much like a vaccine—as a preventative measure to protect American citizens’ constitutional rights from being violated by a foreign law.268

Throughout the US, politicians, lawmakers, and advocates of anti-Sharia bills are consenting to, and spreading the baseless fear of a “creeping Sharia,”269 and the belief that Muslims seek to “Islamize America” via the infiltration of Sharia in US courts.270 Consistently, lawmakers, legal experts, and civil rights groups have made the fact-driven argument that Sharia poses absolutely no threat to the United States, to the US legal system, or to the American public. In fact, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) identifies the court cases that have been overwhelmingly cited by anti-Muslim law advocates to evidence the so-called “Sharia threat” as “red herrings.”271 The ACLU explains that such cases272 are a mere distraction from the real intent of the anti-Sharia legislation, which is to unfairly criticize the Islamic faith, and to concurrently deny Muslim Americans equal access and protection through the judicial system as is afforded to people of other faiths.273

The bill increases mistrust and fearmongering of Islam and Muslims

Lawmakers including South Carolina Representative Chip Limehouse have sponsored anti-Sharia bills, stating that “Sharia law is completely inconsistent with our culture.”274 Oddly, legislators introduced nine anti-Sharia bills between 2010 and 2016 in South Carolina, and yet they could not reference a single case where an individual attempted to use Sharia within the state.275 Carl Gatto, Alaska Republican Representative and sponsor of anti-Sharia bill HB 88, grew up in an Italian neighborhood in New York City and argued in defense of his bill that “the world of other immigrants is different… I’m more concerned about cultures that are vastly different from European immigrants, who come here and prefer to maintain their specific laws from their previous countries, which are in violent conflict with American law.”276 Such policies, instead of promoting safety and defending American citizens’ rights, serve to further stigmatize and single out a minority group.277 International human rights lawyer Arsalan Iftikhar writes that the individuals pushing for anti-Muslim laws are exploiting and taking advantage of Americans who know little to nothing about Islam, as well as the general public’s “limited understanding of the country’s constitutional laws and guiding democratic principles.”278 Ignorance, compounded with misinformation, and unsubstantiated beliefs, undoubtedly feed into the exacerbated fear and othering of Muslim Americans. However, putting discrimination and civil and constitutional rights violations aside, it remains difficult to grasp the urgent need to enact anti-Sharia policies when the alleged “Muslim threat” is drawn from roughly 1% of the US population, with Muslim Americans numbering roughly 3.35 million279 of the country’s total population of 325 million.280 Southern states provide the most striking examples of this unfounded fear of Muslims based on demographic statistics. For example, Mississippi has introduced the highest number of anti-Muslim bills (20) in the nation,281 yet is home to one of the smallest Muslim communities in the country, with Muslim Americans making up less than 1% of the state’s population.282

Interview Excerpt: Abed Awad on the negative impacts of anti-Sharia bills on American civil and constitutional rights


There is at least one example where a state legislature enacted an anti-Sharia law that interfered with a judge’s ability to adjudicate fairly. In the state of Kansas, there was a trial level decision in which the trial judge said he was prohibited from considering Sharia because of the anti-Sharia legislation adopted in Kansas. The actual impact on the civil and constitutional rights of American citizens and legal residents is far more extensive than the Kansas case. The vast majority of court decisions go unreported, and most of the unreported cases are trial-level cases. It will take many years before these unreported trial-level cases reach the appellate courts. Even here, this does not take into account the litigants that accept unreasonable settlements because of the defense of the anti-Sharia ban. In the next few years, we will start to see the problems and defects of the anti-Sharia legislation come to the surface and start to see the undermining of the civil and constitutional rights of Americans and legal residents. The logical conclusion of the anti-Sharia ban will result in prohibiting judges from considering Jewish law, Canon law, and other religious laws. The problem is that American law permits courts to consider religious law to the extent it does not violate American public policy and as long as the court is not engaging in doctrinal interpretation. Furthermore, religious law, culture, and custom may be considered by an American court not for purposes of applying religious law but rather as parole evidence to assist the court to better understand the expectations of the parties to a contract or the cultural/religious context to a dispute or to clarify an ambiguity or discover a fraud. I predict that the anti-Sharia bans will be found to be unconstitutional; and, even if such ban would withstand unconstitutional scrutiny, courts will create exceptions to the applicability of the ban that eventually would swallow the rule.

The bill foments a climate of intolerance against Muslims

In line with espousing fear and othering of Muslim communities, anti-Muslim laws create a climate of intolerance, and contribute to the rise of Islamophobic attitudes among the American public. FBI hate crime statistics released in 2016283 indicate that hate crimes targeting Muslims are on the rise, with a 67% increase from 2014 to 2015.284 Accordingly, an analysis conducted by the Pew Research Center of the recent FBI data demonstrates that the amount of physical assaults perpetrated against Muslims rose to an unsettling level, closely reflecting record high numbers following the 9/11 attacks.285 These statistics reflect and quantify the new wave of Islamophobia in the United States, including the anti-Muslim measures enacted by the Trump administration—all of which are disturbingly reminiscent of the intolerant policies and practices that incarcerated 120,000 Japanese Americans,286 and banned Chinese, Jewish, and Iranian immigrants, as well as HIV-positive persons, from immigrating to the US at different periods of the country’s history.287

This infographic includes a model showcasing lawmakers who sponsored multiple anti-Sharia legislation in their state

The consequences of introducing or enacting anti-Muslim laws extend beyond the conspicuous intent to undermine Muslim Americans’ citizenship and civil liberties, emboldening individuals and groups to publicly act on xenophobic and anti-Muslim sentiments, fostering a climate of intolerance in communities across the United States. For example, in June of 2017 the group Act for America, a staunch supporter of the ALAC anti-Sharia bills, organized “march against Sharia” rallies, or as counter-protesters described them, “marches against Muslims,”288 in 28 cities in 21 states across the nation.289 One of the organizers for the Phoenix, Arizona290 rally encapsulated the central message of the protests, stating that, “Islam is our enemy. And I don’t care, they can call me a hater, they can call me a whatever. … Islam’s our enemy. Sharia law is not for America.”291,292 Speakers at the march in Phoenix claimed erroneously that honor killings, child brides, and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) are all permissible and in accordance with Sharia,293 while at a rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a protester indicated that he joined the rally due to his belief that ISIS is “trying to impose Sharia law in America.”294

The anti-Sharia bills have been utilized to fuel anti-Muslim sentiment and build anti-Muslim bases at the community level, even in locales where organized Islamophobia groups hadn’t existed before.295 The anti-Sharia movement has also empowered lawmakers to introduce other versions of discriminatory anti-Muslim legislation, such as the 2016 Georgia House Bill 3 sponsored by Republican Representative Jason Spencer which proposed the prohibition of Muslim women from wearing a veil in public places.296

The bill negatively impacts and inhibits Muslims from engaging with their religion as related to marriage contracts, business contracts, trusts, and estates

If a state legislature enacts an anti-Sharia bill into law, a judge of that state cannot enforce a contract that is based on Sharia principles.297 This strips judges of their ability to enforce marriage contracts, business contracts, divorce contracts, wills, etc., that are written in accordance with Sharia principles. This results in an unequal treatment of Muslims, and violates their freedom to contract, as well as their religious liberty protections as afforded by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.298 With reference to the infamous court case Muneer Awad v. Paul Ziriax, Oklahoma State Board of Elections, et al., the lawsuit serves as a paramount example of how anti-Sharia bills impact and inhibit Muslims from engaging with their religion. Mr. Awad, the executive director of the CAIR Oklahoma Chapter, filed a lawsuit challenging the Oklahoma “Save Our State Amendment,” a ballot initiative that was approved by 70%299 of the voters during the November 2010 statewide general election.300 The ballot measure prohibited state courts from explicitly applying or considering Sharia or international law in their decision-making processes. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)—the legal representatives for Mr. Awad—the constitutional amendment was “sending an unmistakable message that Muslims are religious and political outsiders.”301 The lawsuit filed by Mr. Awad challenged the “Save Our State Amendment,” or SQ755, on the premise that the amendment violated his right to religious liberty as afforded by the Constitution, arguing that:

By barring state courts from “look[ing] to” or “considering or using Sharia law,” the “Save Our State Amendment” imposes on Muslims a special disability not faced by persons of any other faith. Under the amendment, Muslims seeking relief from a state court will have to ensure that their claims, defenses, evidence, and legal arguments are scrubbed of all references to Islamic law and beliefs. Otherwise, courts will be unable to adjudicate their disputes or perform routine judicial functions, such as probating wills.302…While citizens of other faiths need not scrub religious expression and terms from their legal documents to protect their enforceability, Muslims must.303

The enactment of the “Save Our State Amendment” meant that Mr. Awad, along with every other Muslim living in Oklahoma who wished to have their will reflect their Islamic religious beliefs (burial instructions, charitable donations, etc.), were denied the right to do so, with Oklahoma state courts deeming such contracts unenforceable under the constitutional amendment.304 Conversely, other domestic and family matters were impacted by the amendment such as judicial recognition of divorce, child custody, and marriage if the contracts or agreements were based on Sharia principles.305 The Oklahoma “Save our State Amendment” was later struck down in August of 2013 by a federal court,306 and to date, remains the only anti-Sharia act or amendment to have been struck down.307

In another example, just one month after the Kansas state legislature enacted Senate Bill 79 in 2012, an anti-Sharia bill disguised as an anti-foreign law bill was used as the basis for state refusal to enforce the dowry of Elham Soleimani who would be owed $677,000 as specified in her Islamic marriage contract, if she and her husband were to divorce.308 The court ruled not to enforce the Islamic contract, as it would have violated the law following the enactment of SB 79, which resulted in Elham losing her dowry.309 Ironically, SB 79 was introduced by Kansas State Senator Susan Wagle as “a vote to protect women,” yet in reality, as reflected in the experience of Ms. Soleimani, the law accomplished the exact opposite.310 The anti-Sharia legislation intentionally singles out Muslims by specifically naming Sharia, however, if such a bill is enacted into law it may restrict the freedoms of other minority religious groups who look to religious arbitration.311

Patterns and Trends Related to anti-Sharia Legislation

As ALAC and offshoots of the anti-Muslim model act continue to provoke an unjustifiable fear of Sharia in state legislatures across the US, a network of anti-Muslim politicians and organizations are being exposed in the process. A number of lawmakers have proven themselves adamant in the establishment of anti-Muslim laws, as evidenced by their multiple attempts to enact anti-Sharia measures within their home state.

Noteworthy patterns as related to anti-Muslim legislation, election cycles, and anti-refugee efforts, demonstrate the extent to which anti-Muslim sentiment and fear, are being exploited by politicians to advance discriminatory laws and political agendas, while drawing attention to the collaboration between anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant efforts in the United States. These patterns bring to the forefront the far-reaching impact of Islamophobia and the anti-Sharia movement that affect Muslim Americans and American society.

Anti-Muslim Advocates and Groups Supporting anti-Sharia Legislation

Our research identified several groups with strong anti-Muslim views that supported the enactment of anti-Sharia bills and/or have expressed their approval of enacting anti-Sharia legislation. This complex network of organizations ranges from explicitly anti-Muslim groups, to religious leaders and/or those who have provided more covert forms of support that may not be explicit in their mission. The key anti-Muslim advocates and groups reviewed in this report include: ACT for America; American Public Policy Alliance; Center for Security Policy; Christian Family Coalition; Church of all Nations; Florida Family Association; Florida Family Policy Council; HomeSchool Legal Defense Association; Stop Islamization of America; and the Tea Party Network.

ACT for America Lebanese-born Brigitte Gabriel is the founder of ACT for America, the largest national security grassroots organization in the US with 750,000 members and 12,000 volunteer activists to date.312 With a discernible anti-Islam agenda, ACT spreads propaganda to, engages with, and mobilizes both the public and elected officials to drive anti-Muslim legislative outcomes regarding national security issues and Sharia.313 ACT’s grassroots network has actively supported the enactment of 12 federal and 84 state national security-related bills in 32 states addressing a range of issues including the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, female genital mutilation, the tightening of anti-terror laws, Iranian divestment, the Free Speech Defense Act, and terror finance.314 Most significantly, ACT helped pass 13 anti-Sharia bills modeled after ALAC which prohibit state judges from applying foreign law, including Sharia.315

American Public Policy Alliance (APPA) is a non-partisan 501c4 advocacy organization that works with legislators nationwide on policies and initiatives that restrict the use of international and foreign law in court opinions.316 Primarily concerned with the threat of Sharia as foreign law, APPA’s advocacy work targets the threat of transnationalism, freedom of speech/expression and the press, foreign influence on US higher education, and female genital mutilation. Grounded in these areas of focus, APPA promotes ALAC legislation to prevent the use of Sharia in court decisions.317 APPA also endorses and advocates for legislation that “protect against terrorism” and demand greater government transparency with foreign gifts, particularly from Muslim-majority governments (Higher Education Foreign Gifts Disclosure).318 According to the APPA website, their proposed anti-Sharia legislation was signed into law in Tennessee, Louisiana, Arizona, and Kansas, and the group successfully introduced state-level anti-terrorism legislation in Tennessee.319

The Center for Security Policy (CSP) is a neo-conservative think tank founded in 1988 by Frank J. Gaffney Jr., former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Forces and Arms Control Policy in the Ronald Reagan administration.320

The CSP is among the pioneers of the anti-Muslim movement in the United States, leading conspiracies around “creeping Sharia,” framing "Islamic law" as a threat to American democracy, and accusing the Muslim Brotherhood of infiltrating all levels of government.321 CSP focuses on demonizing Islam and Muslims under the guise of national security, producing a wide range of conspiratorial publications and articles, including the report titled “Shariah: The Threat to America.”322 The report concluded with a number of concerning recommendations, including a warning to imams that they will be charged with sedition should they advocate for Sharia in America.323 David Yerushalmi, Esq., CSP’s general counsel, drafted the anti-Sharia model act (ALAC) that has been introduced in dozens of state legislatures across the country.324 His anti-Sharia campaign was launched in 2006, founding the Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE)—an anti-Muslim organization devoted to advancing the notion that Sharia is a “criminal conspiracy to overthrow the government.”325 In early 2012, Yerushalmi co-founded the American Freedom Law Center (AFLC) which launched an “American Laws for American Courts” citizens’ awareness drive to advance the model anti-Sharia legislation in statehouses across the country.326

Christian Family Coalition (CFC) is focused on mobilizing and introducing pro-family legislation at the state and local levels of government. With a focus on protection of religious liberties, the CFC aims to inform, educate, and train citizens on legislative issues affecting the traditional family unit, including abortion, homosexuality, and healthcare.327 The CFC has also promoted anti-Sharia legislation, encouraging legislators to support HB 351/SB 58 in 2013, a bid to prohibit the application of any foreign law, legal code, or system in family law within the state of Florida. HB 351, commonly referred to as an anti-Sharia bill was sponsored by Republican Representative Larry Metz, modeled after other anti-Muslim legislation introduced throughout the nation.328

Church of all Nations: Rev. Mark Boykin, a senior pastor at the Church of all Nations in Boca Raton, has been a public figure of support for anti-Sharia legislation, and a leader of protest against Muslim activities in the region. Rev. Boykin reportedly praised the passing of HB 1209—a 2012 anti-Sharia bill,329 and led the Church of all Nations’ involvement in the protest against the Margate Mosque, which was accused of financing the Taliban in 2011.330 The Church of all Nations was among the several community organizations in southern Florida that demanded the mosque be shut down after its imam was charged with conspiracy to finance the Taliban, and demanded the government investigate the mosque’s finances.331 Rev. Boykin’s mobilization of the Church of all Nations in this protest against the Margate Mosque represents the pivotal role of religious leaders as key figures in garnering community support for the anti-Sharia movement.

Florida Family Association (FFA), founded by David Caton in 1987, is a Tampa, Florida-based non-profit organization classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.332 The FFA is regularly involved in homophobic and anti-Muslim campaigns involving the media, education, and state legislators. In harnessing online citizen activism via its sizeable email list, the FFA encourages its members to apply pressure on corporations, educational institutions, media outlets, and legislators they suspect are sympathetic to “Islamist agendas.”333 In one recent example of the FFA’s actions, the organization on March 27 had their members flood the inboxes of the judges on the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals, demanding they reinstate President Trump’s second Executive Order that banned immigrants from six Muslim-majority countries. In posting an email template and instructions on their website, the FFA was able to have an estimated 7,500 emails sent to each judge, according to the National Law Journal.334 A notable, earlier example of the FFA’s anti-Muslim campaigns was their infamous push against advertisers of the TLC television show “All-American Muslim,” pressuring the hardware chain Lowe’s to pull its ads.335 In addition, the FFA has supported the introduction of anti-Sharia legislation in various states, including Kansas (2012), influenced the Pennsylvania Judicial Board to rebuke Judge Mark Martin for invoking Sharia in his court (2012), and opposed the right of petitioning a court of redress for grievances when such action interferes with blocking Sharia.336

Florida Family Policy Council (FFPC), founded in 2004, is a 501c3 flagship organization whose primary purpose is to advance pro-life and pro-family values in the public. The FFPC raises hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to support their work opposing gay rights, abortion rights, and Islam.337 The FFPC lobbies for and against various legislative issues relating to the family via Florida Family Action - a 501c4 social advocacy organization. In 2009, FFPC attorney John Stemberger represented Rifqa Bary, a Florida teenager who converted from Islam to Christianity, and often expressed anti-Muslim sentiment in his statements. For example, in his complaint to the Orlando Sentinel’s coverage regarding the Bary case, Stemberger espoused fears around Islam, stating that “there is a growing minority of Muslims in our country who are radical and dangerous.”338

Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) is a nonprofit advocacy organization that provides homeschooling-related legal advice, resources and representation to their member families, while promoting homeschool-friendly legislation at both state and federal levels.339 Although not explicitly stated in the overall HSLDA mission, the organization has supported anti-Sharia legislation including SB 4, prohibiting the application of foreign law in violation of citizens’ constitutional rights, which passed in Alabama in 2013.340

Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), also known as the American Freedom Defense Initiative, was co-founded in 2010 by current leaders Pamela Geller and author Robert Spencer as the American affiliate to “Stop the Islamisation of Europe.”341 As an anti-Muslim, pro-Israel organization, SIOA is known for espousing public fears around the Islamic faith, pushing an anti-Muslim agenda justified by their stated fight against “radical Islam” and their conspiracy that Islam in America will destroy American values.342 Categorized in 2011 as an anti-Muslim hate-group and “propaganda powerhouse” by SPLC, SIOA has led a number of public campaigns against Islam including protests against the New York City Park51 community center (deliberately mislabeled by Geller as the Ground Zero Mosque), and a series of controversial Islamophobic advertisement campaigns in public transit systems in New York City in 2010,323 as well as anti-Palestinian messages across San Francisco in 2016.344SIOA has actively supported anti-Sharia legislation, with member David Heckert testifying in support of the HB 88, Use of Foreign Law bill, in 2011 that would have prohibited the use of Sharia in Alaska.454

Tea Party network is a decentralized network that consists of local and state-based Tea Party groups that have vigorously pushed, and at times collaborated with, Islamophobic grassroots organizations in advancing their anti-Islam agenda. Despite national groups identifying closely with libertarianism, local Tea Party members and chapters hold nationalistic, right-wing beliefs, oppose public education, and promote anti-Muslim political messaging and opposition to mosque developments, accusing key Islamic figures of financing terrorist groups.346

Anti-Sharia and anti-Refugee Movements

In addition to campaigning for anti-Muslim laws, anti-Muslim groups and prominent anti-Muslim actors within the anti-Sharia movement are advocating for anti-refugee policies, combining anti-Muslim and anti-refugee efforts to further discriminate and disenfranchise marginalized populations in the US.347 In November of 2015, following the November 13 Paris attacks, two-thirds of US governors issued statements announcing that they would bar Syrian refugees from resettling in their states.348 The governors expressed concern for the overall safety of the American public and feared that terrorists would disguisev themselves as Syrian refugees to enter the United States.349 Mainstreaming this idea of “fake” refugees—terrorists posing as innocent refugees—stigmatizes Syrian refugees as dangerous, and feeds into the wider issue of security paranoia350 that further emboldens xenophobic attitudes, efforts, and policies at the local, state, and federal levels of government. Groups like ACT for America have been active in proliferating this narrative, and as early as 2011, ACT has been involved in advancing anti-refugee legislation across the US.351

In the summer of 2015 ACT launched a Refugee Awareness Coalition to restrict the number of refugees admitted to the United States under the Obama administration.352 The only text, front and center on the coalition’s webpage, reads, “Refugee Resettlement is a serious problem, just look at Europe. Protect your community. We need you now more than ever.”353 In November of 2015, ACT organized a meeting for congressional staff members on Capitol Hill featuring Ann Corcoran, an anti-refugee activist and founder of the blog Refugee Resettlement Watch354 who, on the topic of Muslim resettlement to the US, has been quoted as saying that “over time, this migration will be more devastating to your children and grandchildren—and to our country—than any terrorist attack could ever be.”355 At the time of publication of this report, ACT is currently supporting house resolutions that relate to domestic policy and refugee resettlement, notably H.R. 2826, H.R. 81 and H.R. 80 of the 115th Congress.356

Interview Excerpt: Stephen Piggott on the connections between anti-Muslim and anti-refugee movements 


There are many, many, examples to point to, where anti-Muslim groups are pushing for anti-refugee legislation. ACT for America in the past couple of years set up a refugee resettlement working group, which essentially functions as pockets of activists who will resist the relocation of specifically Syrian refugees, and the relocation of refugees in general, to smaller locales throughout the country. ACT has been pushing people to introduce anti-refugee legislation, and there are examples of this. Like in the Flathead Valley of Montana, a county council meeting was scheduled to discuss the relocation of refugees to their area by the federal government, and the local ACT chapter organized a huge meeting about 10 days before the council meeting was supposed to take place, and nearly 500 people showed up. Ten days later the county council buckled and published a letter to the federal government opposing refugee resettlement in Flathead Valley. Brigitte Gabriel, head of ACT for America, later sent around an email titled “The Victory in Montana,” affirming that they defeated the possibility of refugee relocation.

Looking at the Center for Security Policy [CSP], if you look at CSP, David Yerushalmi, who’s credited for being the Godfather of this anti-Sharia legislation, he is on the general council for Center for Security Policy, acting as their lawyer. Over the years, there have been several examples of CSP figures going around the county and encouraging elected officials to introduce anti-Sharia or anti-refugee legislation, and it’s been successful in some places. Kansas is one such example of this. There was an anti-refugee bill introduced by a legislator by the name of Peggy Mast, and when she was asked why she was introducing an anti-refugee bill, she publically stated that she had been consulting with Center for Security Policy on the bill, so there’s no way to hide the fact that CSP is working to pass these bills. Another example was in January 2016, when Christopher Holton—the same Center for Security Policy member who was consulting with Peggy Mast in Kansas—went to Idaho and set up a legislative forum with Shahram Hadian, a very outspoken pastor and ex-Muslim Christian convert who speaks against Islam. Both Holton and Hadian spoke at this legislative forum in Idaho, imploring people to introduce an anti-refugee bill. Their efforts were unsuccessful as the legislators in Idaho did not introduce the bill, but in March of 2016 a representative who attended the legislative forum introduced an anti-Sharia bill in Idaho [there was no anti-Sharia activity in Idaho prior to this] and when he introduced the bill he cited some material from Center for Security Policy, which again is another direct example of how these anti-Muslim groups are helping to consult lawmakers who have introduced anti-refugee or anti-Sharia bills, as well as helping to build support for these bills. This is really the role that ACT for America plays in a lot of ways, because they have a large grassroots following of activists who really want to get these kind of bills passed.

The Center for Security Policy (CSP) has also been a key driving force behind anti-refugee efforts in the United States, and in 2015—along with ACT for America—CSP led working groups with anti-Muslim activists across the US to oppose Syrian refugee resettlement.357 The think tank has also crafted anti-Syrian refugee model legislation to be introduced at the state and local levels, and anti-refugee bills utilizing CSP’s model language have been enacted in two counties in South Carolina.358 In accordance with opposing Syrian refugee settlement, the Center for Security Policy is leading a targeted strategy to influence state and federal policies, mostly related to limiting refugee resettlement to Christians only.359 In efforts to join forces with Ann Corcoran, the “face of the anti-refugee movement in America,” the Center for Security Policy published Corcoran’s pamphlet entitled “Refugee Resettlement and the Hijra to America,”360 that encourages everyday Americans to take action to support a moratorium on Muslim immigration to the US by supporting the enactment of ALAC legislation.361

There are several examples of legislators who introduced anti-Sharia bills while also sponsoring legislation to halt or limit Syrian refugee resettlement to the US. In addition to Kansas Representative Peggy Mast,362 Mississippi Senator Chris McDaniel sponsored three anti-Sharia bills,363 followed by an anti-refugee bill in 2016 that was not enacted into law.364 In 2011 Representative Judd Matheny from Tennessee sponsored anti-Sharia bill HB 1353 as well as anti-refugee bill HB 1632, both of which became laws. It is worthy to note that HB 1632 is listed on the ACT for America website as legislation they helped to enact into law, highlighting the support network between anti-Muslim hate groups and senators in driving the anti-Sharia, and anti-refugee movement.365

Anti-Sharia legislation and Midterm and Presidential Election Cycles

Research conducted by Dalia Mogahed, Director of Research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, indicates that spikes in anti-Muslim sentiment are influenced more by trends in US politics and election cycles than by acts of violence carried out by Muslims on US or international soil.366 This connection between Islamophobia and US politics is most notably demonstrated in the 2016 presidential election campaign, where a number of Republican presidential candidates capitalized on blatant anti-Muslim rhetoric to garner public support.367 The strategic application of Islamophobia in Donald Trump’s campaign meant that his views resonated with a sizable demographic of American voters, and afforded him a “winning strategy” to scoop-up votes in battleground states such as Ohio, North Carolina, and Florida.368

This entangled correlation between anti-Muslim sentiment and US election cycles is also reflected in patterns of introducing and/or enacting anti-Sharia legislation. Our research suggests that the greatest number of anti-Sharia bills to have been introduced in US state legislatures were in the years leading-up to a midterm or presidential election, with data showing far fewer anti-Sharia bills being introduced and/or enacted during midterm or presidential election years.369

The push for anti-Sharia legislation by lawmakers in a year prior to midterm and presidential election cycles provides a mechanism to normalize, legalize, and proliferate Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment among the American public. The advancement of anti-Sharia bills has been exploited as an opportunity to “reinforce a concern for United States’ sovereignty and national security”370 while the media as well as politicians have been successful in hyperbolizing and “misconstruing the reality and place of Sharia in the US”371 These intentions exacerbate the public’s fear372 and misunderstanding of Sharia, Islam, and Muslims, bolstering a platform for politicians to exploit and scapegoat Muslims during elections to gain voter support and to advance their political agendas.373

Part of Donald Trump’s abhorrent anti-Muslim rhetoric was in reference to Sharia, where he referred to "Sharia law" as, “a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States,”374 stating verbatim phrasing used by Newt Gingrich during his presidential bid in 2012.375

This chart showcases Anti-sharia legislation introduced and enacted between 2010-2016

Prominent politicians and leaders espousing anti-Sharia rhetoric is no coincidence—it illustrates the power and influence that anti-Muslim activists and the anti-Sharia movement carry in US politics, specifically in shaping the campaigns of major politicians. 

Anti-Muslim hate groups such as Act for America—an organization that helped to enact 13 anti-Sharia bills in 13 states376—prides itself in building close relationships with, and having an influence on, government officials. In early 2017 the organization’s founder Brigitte Gabriel met with a legislative staff member at the White House.377,378 President Trump himself has often cited the Center for Security Policy to vindicate his anti-Muslim policies,379 and his former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon has praised Frank Gaffney as “one of the senior thought leaders” fighting against “Islamic radical jihad.”380 These groups and individuals have direct access to, and ability to influence, some of the most powerful individuals in our nation, and arguably some of the most powerful people in the world. Their malicious efforts to promote anti-Muslim legislation emboldens politicians and presidential candidates to harness the fearmongering of Muslims for political gain, depicting the “intimate nexus between the law and politics of American Islamophobia.”381