A coalition of civil rights and faith-based groups called on Tennessee lawmakers Tuesday to withdraw a measure that would make it a crime to practice extreme forms of the Islamic code known as Sharia.
At a news conference outside the Legislative Plaza, they said the bill, sponsored by Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, is the stiffest yet introduced in any state by the conservative national movement to limit how Muslims worship.
“I sing the Star Spangled Banner before games and I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America,” said Nadeem Siddiqi of Knoxville. “And I am a Muslim. I see no contradiction in that.”
Gadeir Abbas, an attorney with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the legislation would make it a crime to donate to Muslim organizations or help paint a mosque.
“Even non-Muslims could be prosecuted for doing things as inane as bringing a dish to an Islamic Center’s community potluck,” he said.
Ketron insisted the bill aims only to curb homegrown terrorism and exempts the peaceful practice of Islam.
“The top priority of government should be to protect our citizens,” Ketron said in a statement. “The 9/11 attack and subsequent terrorist attacks have turned a new page in our nation’s history. All levels of government — national, state and local — must be a part of this effort. This bill seeks to enhance legislation we already have on the books to provide our state and local law enforcement agencies the tools they need to enable them to intervene against those who plan, finance and assist others who commit acts of terrorism before they occur.”
He said his bill is modeled after the federal anti-terrorism law, which has been upheld by the Supreme Court as constitutional.
According to Ketron, the bill would do the following:
* Authorize the state attorney general to designate a “Sharia organization,” which is defined as one with the intent to engage in Sharia jihad through violent or criminal activity.
* Define what constitutes material support to fund terrorism and provides that those who knowingly provide material support may be prosecuted and subject to a fine or prison sentence of up to 15 years.
* Provide a civil cause of action against terrorists for people who are injured or suffer property or financial damages as a result of terrorism.
“Tennessee, like the federal government, has a compelling state interest to protect our citizens from jihad terrorism,” said the House sponsor, Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma. “The incidence of homegrown terrorism is rising, and our local and state law enforcement officers are on the frontlines in preventing such attacks. Tennessee’s current law addresses terrorism after the fact. This legislation aims to prevent acts of terrorism before they occur.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee and the Interfaith Alliance of Middle Tennessee held Tuesday’s news conference.
ACLU-TN Executive Director Hedy Weinberg said the bill is “questioning an entire religious community’s loyalty to the United States.” She called it “misguided, counter-productive and discriminatory.”
“Extremist violence is not limited to one religion or belief,” Weinberg said. “Laws like this are unnecessary, unconstitutional and make us less safe by blinding authorities to real threats.”