Why Are Indiana RFRA Opponents Fanning The Flames Of Islamophobia?

Why Are Indiana RFRA Opponents Fanning The Flames Of Islamophobia?

Progressives shouldn’t join anti-Muslim activists in asserting wild outcomes from Indiana’s new religious freedom law.

In 2012, anti-Muslim activists warned that “creeping sharia” was overtaking America. They issued dire warnings about how the Constitution’s protection of religious freedom, along with laws like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), could be used by Muslims to set up sharia courts, make women bundle up in burqas, and go after gays.

Today, the same arguments are coming from progressives over Indiana’s new religious freedom law. Not content to distort the law to suggest that it empowers oppression by Christians, progressive commentators are also demagogically suggesting that Indiana’s law could lead America into a supine soumission.

Monday night, MSNBC host Ari Melber asked, “What’s going to happen when Indiana runs into say, someone, running a business who says their business reflects extreme Muslim values and women can’t enter or work there unless they’re in a hijab? Do you think that’s a good idea?”

His guest, prominent gay activist Dan Savage, piled on: “The law says that if a Muslim who is attempting to discriminate against women can point to a sincerely held religious belief, which is a squishy, ambiguous standard, that he wins.”

Savage later tweeted that Indiana’s law would make it possible for Muslims to “discriminate based on Islamic teaching.”

Vanity Fair contributing editor Kurt Eichenwald added to the hysteria on Twitter:

And Muslims have started to notice:

This new argument from progressives is a wildly irresponsible attempt to exploit fear of the ethnic and religious other. It is also total misreading of the law. There is no reason to suppose the law would do any such thing. RFRA emphatically does not ensure that such a shopkeeper, if he ever existed, would win. It only gives him his day in court, during which his claims to religious freedom would be balanced against other rights and government interests.

One indication of how low the Left has sunk in its opposition to RFRA is given by those whose arguments they now echo. There’s very little light between the lines taken by MSNBC and by anti-Muslim activist Debbie Schlussel, who told her conservative readers Indiana’s law has “been used on the national level to help further Muslim extremism and intolerance . . . It will be used to expand the rights of Muslims to further use our system against us.”

Many progressives would no doubt disavow this scaremongering over Muslim discrimination, as well they should. But why can’t they do the same for their similarly hysterical claims about discriminating Christians? A few principled conservatives argued against the anti-religious hysteria of the creeping sharia movement in 2012. Which liberals will respond to lies over RFRA by standing up and doing the same today?

Matthew Schmitz is deputy editor of First Things.
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