First, let me convey the basic facts as laid out in an article in the local newspaper. A woman named Amina Farah Ali, originally from Somalia, was on trial (she was later convicted) for raising money for a radical Islamist terrorist group, al-Shabaab. This group has committed hundreds of murders, setting off a war that has led to starvation in Somalia and then blocking relief supplies from Western agencies.
Ali refused to stand when the judge entered the courtroom. The judge found her guilty of contempt and sentenced her to 100 days in jail. Ali’s lawyer appealed and the higher court found that Ali’s refusal “was rooted in her sincerely held religious beliefs” and thus the judge’s decision had interfered with “the free exercise of religion.” According to the law, the higher court concluded, religious beliefs can only be overridden if there is a “compelling reason” to do so.
I want to focus on Ali’s precise reasoning as accepted by the U.S. judicial system. Ali said that she refused to stand because of her interpretation of Islamic teachings. Why? Because, as the newspaper article recounted, “The Prophet Muhammad once told a group of followers they didn’t have to honor him by standing. She said that if she didn’t have to rise for the founder of her religion, she didn’t have to rise for anybody.”
Every other Muslim in the courtroom, however, disagreed with her on what Islam requires of them. They stood up. It also appears that some Muslim clerics later advised her to stand. The judge noted that there was no discrimination against Muslims involved in the rule because everyone in a courtroom must stand. Even her own lawyer, who supported Ali’s action, admitted, “There’s just no reasonable way that [the judge] could have order in the court unless she gives up her religious beliefs.” But obviously this lawyer doesn’t care about the effective functioning of a court. So he chooses her religious belief over the importance of maintaining order in a court and equal treatment for all citizens.
Yet in this case we are not even dealing with Muslim religious tenets. This decision basically say that anyone can make up any religious belief and if deemed sincere can do whatever they want.
For example, in the Book of Esther it says that Mordechai refused to bow to the king’s prime minister. Any Jew or Christian could claim that this empowered—indeed obligated–him not to stand up in court to a judge since one bows only before God.
Read the rest here.