A new bill, Senate Bill 89, under the guise of legislating that American and only American laws be applied by American courts, seeks to sow the seeds of religious intolerance, xenophobia, and Islamophobia in Delaware. Delaware has been very fortunate that there is a great degree of social and religious harmony in the state that keeps hate speech and hate crimes at insignificant levels.
The bill has been introduced by none other than Republican Senator Dave Lawson, of Senate District 15. Senator Lawson has chosen to become the champion of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry in Delaware.
Only last year, he gave a demonstration of his deeply felt hatred and contempt for Muslims, when he walked out of Legislative Hall at the recitation of a Muslim prayer, calling it “despicable.” He was rebuked by Senator David McBride, the president pro tempore. Senators McBride and Nicole Poore have shown tremendous leadership on this issue and deserve to be recognized for defending our values.
We joined a coalition of interfaith and lay leaders, including Governor John Carney, and hundreds of Delawareans to strongly protest this egregious display of religious bigotry.
Bills like SB 89, passed in GOP-controlled states, were initially introduced as anti-Sharia bills, stoking the fear that “Islamic Sharia” was taking over the country and spreading the lie that American judges, courts and prosecutors were abandoning American laws and implementing Sharia. When courts started to strike them down as unconstitutional, advocates of these laws dropped the overtly anti-Muslim statements in these bills, to game the legal system and implement bills that are essentially hate laws, targeting a single religious community but couched in more innocuous language.
The language may be harmless, but the intent remains toxic.
The Senate Bill 89 is just another expression of the same intolerance and tactics so staggeringly expressed by President Donald Trump, who promised a “Muslim ban” and, when courts rejected it, rephrased his Islamophobia as a “travel ban.” The object of such initiatives is not to improve our legal system but trigger a public panic that America is being governed by Islamic sharia.
Using sharia as a straw man, these tactics are designed to promote Islamophobia and xenophobia. This hatred also then begins to feed into anti-semitism, racism and a general climate of division, fragmentation and dysfunctionality in society.
The legislation is substantively meaningless and redundant, because American judges, prosecutors and lawyers apply American laws all the time unless they are required by treaty to implement international norms that the U.S. has agreed to abide by.
Additionally, this law maligns the Delaware legal system, Delaware judges and prosecutors, and paints them as disloyal to the American Constitution, needing a law to restrict and guide them.
Since the election of President Trump, white nationalism, racism, and religious bigotry have been on the rise. Bigots feel more emboldened to preach hate, taking their cue from the top.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-semitism in the US has increased by 60 percent in 2017 — this is the biggest rise since 1979. According to the FBI’s 2016 report on hate crimes based on religious prejudice, 54.4 percent were against Jews and 24.5 percent were against Muslims.
Nearly 80 percent, three out of four, religious hate crime victims are members of the minority Abrahamic traditions, Judaism and Islam.
Hatemongers, who use hate for political purposes, do not realize that hate is not a guided missile. It is like a poison gas. Once unleashed into the atmosphere, it spreads like wildfire and engulfs everyone. None will be spared.
Religious minorities, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh, will all be targeted by the unstated consequences of this bill.
Senator Lawson may benefit politically from just introducing this hate bill. But in order to tout his achievement and attract more supporters and funds, he will have to share with his constituency its “merits” — keeping Islam out — and that will slowly venomize the culture of Delaware.
Muslims of Delaware are law-abiding, peaceful, and great contributors to our economy and society. Senator Lawson will demonize an innocent community, divide us along religious lines and foster intolerance.
It is such a shame that two Democratic legislators, William Carson and James Johnson, have joined this agenda and are supporting intolerance and religious bigotry. We invite them to immediately withdraw their support and deprive this hate bill of the legitimacy of bipartisanship.
We, a Muslim and a Jew, invite fellow Delawareans to say no to introduction of hate in Delaware. We demand state senators and state legislators on both sides reject such hate legislation summarily and work to defend American values of religious tolerance, pluralism and inclusivity.
The views expressed herein are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of CGP.
Originally Published in Delaware Online.