Demonstrators protest at the Supreme Court in May after a draft opinion that overturned Roe v. Wade was leaked. Alex Brandon / Associated Press
As the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade continues to cause alarm across the country, religious minority groups are gearing up for a legal battle to protect their religious freedoms.
On June 10, a Florida synagogue filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks saying it prevents Jews from having a procedure that, in some cases, Jewish law would require them to have. They’re not alone.
For Muslims, the Florida ban, and the likely upending of Roe, is also an infringement on their religious freedom.
Some Americans, however, want state law to force everyone to live by one interpretation of Christianity. By defining life as beginning at conception, as lawmakers across the nation are trying to do, the religious doctrine of one Christian community may soon be imposed on Americans across the nation. Many didn’t believe this sort of religio-political movement could take hold in this country. Drafting the U.S. Constitution in the shadow of the Catholic-Protestant wars of Europe, the founders recognized the dangers of a state church. The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause keeps states from favoring one religion over another and the Free Exercise Clause protects individual religious practice. As a result, religious practice is refreshingly diverse in the U.S., with adherents of dozens of religions free to live and practice here.
Unfortunately, that may be about to change. As an interfaith coalition asserted in an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court, abortion bans stifle “the diversity of views within and across religious traditions” on the morality of terminating a pregnancy. Despite these warnings, a majority of justices appear to be unconcerned. The alignment of state law with particular Christian beliefs apparently does not offend the current court’s understanding of the Constitution.
The Mississippi abortion law under review by the Supreme Court not only dilutes the First Amendment, but for Muslims, it runs counter to the Islamic principle of respecting diversity of religious practice. Muslims, like all Americans, hold a wide range of beliefs about abortion. Right now, the Constitution protects all of them. That will end if the leaked opinion becomes the law of the land.
The court’s worrying shift toward a Christian nationalization of American law should concern all Americans, but it is especially dangerous to American minorities. The draft opinion limits constitutional rights to those “deeply rooted in (our) history and tradition.” This test invokes a time when essential rights were only held by rich, white, Christian men. If that is our standard for constitutional rights today, then American society could quickly backslide into an era many of us thought was behind us.
How far the court will go down this path remains a mystery. Some say contraception will no longer be protected. Maybe the right to marry or education about minority faiths will fall next.
Whatever the future holds, let’s be clear: What the Supreme Court may be about to do is not “Christian sharia.” It is medieval state church thinking. And we need to stop it before it turns into a crusade.
By Asifa Quraishi-Landes
Asifa Quraishi-Landes is an interim co-executive director of the civil rights organization Muslim Advocates. She is also a professor of U.S. constitutional law and modern Islamic constitutional theory at the University of Wisconsin Law School.