State of Religious Freedom in the US and Europe

[On December 3, 2015, I  attended a KARAMAH-sponsored event focusing on the current state of international religious freedom in the United States and Europe The following summary is a report only of my subjective impressions of the panel and is not intended as an exact transcript. Any errors are mine alone.]

State of Religious Freedom in the US and Europe

Aisha Rahman, Esq. (KARAMAH). the US constitution guarantees free exercise of religion use and prohibits both religious establishment  by government and religious tests for public office, but outside the law Americans are subjecting Muslims to collective blame. Now many are calling for internment of Muslims like the internment of Japanese during WWII. In the most recent year the percentage of Religious Use and Incarcerated Persons Act actions regarding mosques has skyrocketed compared to the nine years previous. Most of the increase is due to hostility to Muslims. Objectors to most instances of religious land use back down once they understand the law. Only in cases of mosques must land use cases resort to lawsuits to make objectors back down.

Engy Abdelkader, Esq. To say that the violence and discrimination against Muslims is a consequence of backlash against Muslims is to excuse it as the consequence of aggression or discrimination by their coreligionists. But before the Paris attacks a study on hate crimes against Muslims in Britain focused especially on hate crimes against women and found a reluctance by the public to intervene or defend these Muslims. For example, a threatened woman appealed to a bus driver who said he could do nothing. This lead to a $10,000 lawsuit that has changed the behavior of bus drivers. Tell Momma (a British support group for Muslim victims of hate violence) says over 60% of attacks on Muslims whether online or physical are aimed at women. A pre-Charlie Hebdo study in France came to a similar conclusion. An online posting of a woman in a burka identified as a “slut” highlights the specifically gender-slanted nature of the attacks. A schoolteacher in France called for grilling all Muslims on hot coals to fight terrorism. Patriotic Europeans Against Islamization of the West began “as a Facebook page managed by a chef and convicted cocaine dealer“. In France several mayors have ended the practice of substitute meals for pork in schools with large Muslim populations, schools on which packed lunches from home are prohibited. Muslims vary widely in their degree of religious observance, except on the issue of pork consumption. In one French town the mayor said he would prohibit the opening of any more kabob restaurants because they go against Judeo-Christian values. Over a hundred Muslim female students who had already been forced to remove their headscarves were now commanded to stop wearing long skirts, demonstrating that any limitations on religious garb is s slippery slope. This is effectively an attack on access to education. The discrimination is not limited to women, and in France Muslim men are four times less likely to receive a job offer than Catholic men.

David Saperstein (Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom). It is not enough for a country to say it defends religious freedom, more important is what happens to people in those countries. It is not only a question of freedom of worship but the entire gamut of religious practice. There are 2,000 religious denominations and faith groups in the US. The three elements of religious freedom identified before guarantee that your legal rights will never be tied to your religious beliefs practices or identity. In Tajikistan people under 18 may not participate in public religious ceremonies. In China beards and headscarves are banned and Ramadan fasting restricted. It is women and girls who are disproportionately affected. Jews as well as Muslims were affected by the French ban on head coverings. When such bigotry comes from political leaders it gives an aura of immunity to such discrimination and a green light to extralegal discrimination.

Aisha Rahman. The teaching of Islam needs to include the time of religious freedom in Islam.

Engy Abdelkader. I would not use “jihadi” to refer to people engaged in criminal activity. In the observant Muslim’s mindset Jihad has a positive connotation.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad (Minaret of Freedom Institute). The press has a double standard. Muslim terrorists call themselves  “Islamists” and “jihadis”  because they are trying to put a positive spin on their unIslamic actions in the same way that “Ku Klux Klan” members call themselves “Christians” and “patriots” to put a positive spin on their unChristian actions. It is important to note that studies show that backlash against violence committed by Muslims spikes when there is political demagoguery. When George W. Bush went to a mosque to declare that Islam was not responsible for the attacks of 9/11 the violent spike against Muslims in the wake of 9/11 was largely quashed. Political demagogues today are fanning the flames in way they do not do with the white terrorists like the Planned Parenthood shooter.

David Saperstein.  There must be pressure both inside and outside the system. There are good people within the system who can’t act until pressure outside makes them do it.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute






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