Posted by on October 01, 2011 in Blog

Today at the National Leadership Conference, scholars, community activists, and elected officials gathered to discuss the current wave of hate legislation which has enveloped the nation over the last few years. 

In front of a crowded room of community activists, Linda Sarsour, Director of the Arab American Association of New York, moderated an all star-panel which included: Matt Duss, Policy Analyst, and Director of Middle East Progress at the Center for American Progress; Matt Heinz, Arizona State Representative; Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum; and Dawud Walid Executive Director of CAIR Michigan.

The event marked the beginning of a national dialogue on combating legislation targeting the ostensible presence of Sharia in our judicial system, as well as a number of state-led initiatives on immigration reform.

Leading off the discussion, Matt Duss introduced the topic by outlining the current state of hate legislation making its way through state houses throughout the nation. Duss explained to the crowd that the process truly began in November of 2010, when Oklahoma passed the “Save Our State” amendment banning Sharia law. The amendment was subsequently overturned by the courts, and held in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. According to Duss, the intent behind the Oklahoma law and subsequent copycat laws was to drum up enough fear among conservative voters to create a more favorable political atmosphere for conservative candidates.

Following Mr. Duss’s introduction, Dawud Walid followed up on Mr. Duss’s statement by explaining that some 20 states have already adopted similar measures. Mr. Walid described the evolution of the hate legislation, explaining that proponents of the legislation had found a clever way around the court’s ruling on the issue by reframing the debate as a ban on “foreign law” rather than a direct assault on Sharia. 

He suggested that community leaders should start organizing on this issue, and that this effort could and should start by pushing local religious leaders to discuss the importance of this social issue at prayer sessions. Mr. Walid also noted that in order to be successful on this front the, Arab American community must ally itself with a broad coalition of interfaith communities including representative of the Jewish and Catholic faiths.

Matt Heinz of Arizona broadened the discussion to include anti-immigration bills as another vehicle for states to target minority communities. Mr. Heinz offered a solution to the problem of hate legislation, telling the crowd that the best way to combat this new offensive was to explain to constituents that in addition to being discriminatory and unconstitutional, the current wave of hate legislation had a detrimental impact on local economies by driving away potential consumers.

Representative Heinz also commented on the current legal status of the most high profile immigration bills, telling the crowd that currently the courts had enjoined significant portions of key immigration bills, which will likely lead to a final showdown on the matter before the Supreme Court. 

Lastly, Mr. Ali Noorani emphasized the importance of organizing and mobilizing local communities on this issue, and pleaded with the audience to understand that true political power rests with the community, and that change happens when we work hard for it. 

In Mr. Noorani’s words, we must look at these challenges as opportunities, and explain in simple terms to voters the true cost of hateful legislation of this kind.

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