Parsing the Tennessee Sharia Bill

First it was Oklahoma and the Save Our State amendment. Then there was the more subtly worded South Carolina Senate Bill 444 and Georgia’s House Bill 45.  Oklahoma, South Carolina and Georgia (and there are probably other states at this point) are trying to prevent the courts of their states applying sharia law. A pointless vote-getter. And a legislator can hardly vote against these ridiculous measures without then being accused of supporting jihad.

Now it is Tennessee and Senate Bill 1028. And once again, it is legislators who know nothing about the thing they are trying to legislate against, but this time with a new twist. Tennessee is doing something different. SB 1028 makes it a felony to support sharia. And it’s not subtle about it at all. Muddled and unconstitutional, but not subtle.

Tennessee needs to be saved from the perils of sharia law on the verge of engulfing the state. Apparently. After all the bill starts off with “The threat from terrorism continues to plague the United States generally and Tennessee in particular.” Tennessee is plagued with the threat from terrorism. In particular. No doubt. Not since the Battle of Stone’s River has sponsoring Senator Bill Ketron’s home of Murfreesboro been under such a siege.

By paragraph 3 we learn that “sharia is based historically and  traditionally on a full corpus of law and jurisprudence termed fiqh and usul al-fiqh, respectively, dealing with all aspects of a sharia-adherent’s personal and social life and political society.” So sharia deals with all aspects of a “sharia-adherent’s” personal and social life. The other name for a “sharia-adherent” is “Muslim”. Just so we are sure of how comprehensively the bill defines “sharia-adherent”, in paragraph 2,  it is described as a “legal-political-military doctrine and system adhered to, or minimally advocated by, tens of millions if not hundreds of millions of its followers around the world.”

And all of them want to plague Tennessee with terrorism and overthrow the government.

“The knowing adherence to sharia and to foreign sharia authorities constitutes a conspiracy…” (Paragraph 11)  “The knowing adherence to sharia and to foreign sharia authorities is prima facie evidence of an act in support of the overthrow of the United States government and the government of this state through the abrogation, destruction, or violation of the United States and Tennessee Constitutions by the likely use of imminent criminal violence and terrorism with the aim of imposing sharia on the people of this state.” (Paragraph 13)

Nowhere in the bill is “foreign sharia authority” defined. However sharia is defined as “any rule, precept, instruction, or edict arising directly from the extant rulings of any of the authoritative schools of Islamic jurisprudence of Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, Hanbali, Ja’afariya, or Salafi”.  This is the equivalent of saying “any interpretation of the Bible by any pastor or Bible teacher, whether Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Reformed, Baptist…”

So being a Muslim constitutes a conspiracy and is prima facie evidence of that conspiracy to overthrow the US government – and of course the government of the plagued state of Tennessee – by criminal violence and terrorism. But I am curious about this “likely use” of imminent violence. Is the violence likely or imminent? If it is imminent isn’t it a bit more that likely? But when it comes to Muslims, who has time to worry about things like this? Tennessee is in the midst of a plague, after all. (Evidence of the plague usually takes the form of, “I hear told someone even saw a woman wrapped in one of them funny scarf thangs at the Family Dollar in Smyrna t’other day. Sakes alive! She might’a had a bomb under that thang.”)

I could parse out all the statements in the thirteen paragraphs of findings that, if enacted, the Tennessee General Assembly will have found to be true about sharia and sharia-adherents, but because they are repetitive while also managing to be occasionally contradictory, it would take more space than you have patience. If you are a member of the Tennessee General Assembly and voting for this bill, things like repetition, contradiction and violation of the First Amendment aren’t going to stand in your way.

I will, however, point out that in paragraph 9, there is a reference to the “jihad groups identified by the federal government as designated terrorist organizations pursuant to § 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act”. On the other hand, the bulk of the bill sets out procedures for the Tennessee Attorney General to designate “sharia organizations” so that anyone who is associated with them can be prosecuted and liable for all sorts of civil causes of action. If the federal government has already designated jihad groups – a task for which they expend considerable federal tax dollars on extensive covert operations – why does the Tennessee AG need to do the same? And if the members of these organizations are already subject to federal law, why does Tennessee need to step in?

Now I wish this was just a looney bill introduced by a lone ranger legislator. Every legislature gets some of those every session. Those sorts of bills grab a newspaper headline and then die quietly in committee without a hearing. Unfortunately in this case, there are three Senate co-sponsors, the chairs of the Education, Transportation and Judiciary committees, the last of which has the bill under consideration. Ketron is the GOP Caucus Chair. And like the legislation in the other states, it has a companion bill in the other chamber, in this case sponsored by Rep. Judd Matheny. It has twelve co-sponsors, including the chair the State and Local Government committee.

And finally, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the goofiest bit of legislative drafting I’ve seen in a long, long time. It goes back to that definition of sharia. “‘Sharia’ means the set of rules, precepts, instructions, or edicts which are said to emanate directly or indirectly from the god of Allah…” The god of Allah? What is the god of Allah? “The god Allah” maybe. I can allow that some people think that Allah, as worshipped in Islam, is a different god than God as worshipped in Christianity, rather than just a erroneous understanding of God. And I understand that most American Christians are completely clueless that Arab Christians call God “Allah” because that’s the Arabic word for God. And most are Islamo-illiterate enough that they don’t know that Muhammad came up with Islam after lots of contact with Judaism and Christianity and in essence derived his idea of God from them and his intent was to worship the God of Abraham. But “god of Allah”? Is this the god that this Allah putatively worships? Who knows? Probably not even the real author of this legislation, David Yerushalmi, a self-proclaimed expert on Islamic law.

Yerushalmi has contended in the press that the bill does not prevent Muslims from practicing their religion – you know, that old First Amendment thing. This only raises the question of why this legislation was so appalling poorly drafted – so vague and contradictory – even if the intent is supposed to be more narrow.

Just like there is no case of sharia having been applied by any judge in any court in the US, there is no instance in which Tennessee, its government or Constitution, or Ellie May down at the Family Dollar have been harmed by sharia-adherent jihadists or could be harmed in such a way that having the state attorney general proscribe anyone or any group would make any difference whatsoever.

My Confederate Heroes

Today is the 201st birthday of Robert E. Lee. It is a legal and public holiday in Florida. In Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi it will be celebrated on Monday, along with the birthday of another son of the South.

In my home state of Texas, it is Confederate Heroes Day. So whilst I am happy to remember General Lee, I also think there are others who deserve mention.

In September, 1861, my uncle George Washington Littlefield mustered in as a 2nd Sergeant of Company I, of what would be officially designated the 8th Texas Cavalry, but is usually known to history as Terry’s Texas Rangers. On January 10, 1862, he was elected 2nd Lieutenant.

He commanded the company at the Battle of Shiloh, because the Captain and 1st Lieutenant were on furlough in Texas. The Captain never returned and the 1st Lieutenant was killed a few days after returning to the regiment, so my uncle was elected Captain on May 10. There was only one man younger than him in the entire company and he was not yet 20 years old.

He commanded his company through the battles of Perryville and Murfreesboro. After Chickamuaga on September 18-20, 1863, he was made acting major of the regiment. He fought at the Third (and most famous) Battle of Chattanooga, specifically the part known as the Battle of Lookout Mountain, and then a little over a month later at the lesser known Battle of Mossy Creek.

It was there on December 29, 1863 that, in his own words, “I was blown off my horse by a piece of shell passing through my left hip, cutting a wound 11 by 9 inches from my groin across my hip . . . While laying on the ground, General Thomas Harrison road up and looked at me and remarked that he promoted me to the rank of Major, for Gallantry in action.” My Uncle George was 21 years old. He further commented, “I was never able to do duty again, did not quit use of my crutches until July, 1867, two years after the war was closed.”

George W. Littlefield did recover and later became a successful cattleman and banker, and the single largest donor to the University of Texas in it’s first 50 years. At one point, when the Governor of Texas threaten to veto the biennial appropriations for the university, my Uncle George offered to personally fund the university for those two years. The Governor backed down.

If you visit the plot of George Littlefield’s grave in Austin’s Oakwood Cemetery you will find the another Confederate hero there as well. Nathan Stokes was Uncle George’s life-long servant. He followed him throughout his military service and nursed him back to health from his severe wounds. People who are ignorant about slavery and its aftermath would not understand why the 13th Amendment may have changed the legal relationship between Uncle George and Nathan, but not the personal relationship.

Nathan is a hero on my mother’s side just like Abe Officer, a slave on my father’s side, whose quick thinking saved my cousin’s life from Federal troops when they surrounded my aunt and uncle’s house in Tennessee and massacred the other six Confederate soldiers having breakfast inside and wounded my aunt. (Those troops, as history would strangely have it, also belonged to Terry’s Texas Rangers.) Abe and my cousin would be life-long friends.

There are other Confederate heroes in my family, about whom I know less and time would not allow me to ramble on if I could. Christopher Columbus Littlefield, Charles Erasmus Littlefield, and Robert Littlefield were cousins that also served with Terry’s Texas Rangers. My great-great-grandfather Samuel Pearson Carson Hampton served with several units, including Gore’s Tennessee Calvary. My cousin Alexander Officer died at Corinth, Mississippi. There are many other cousins as well, some whose service I have yet to uncover. May their memories be eternal.

As with soldiers in any war, there are unsung heroes whose acts are known only to God. If nowhere else but in his infinite knowledge, may their memories also be eternal.