Resource: Muslim Americans: Do U.S. Democratic Institutions Protect Their Religious Liberty?

By: Engy Abdelkader

December 26, 2018

Asian American Law Journal (University of California Berkeley)

This essay presents a normative, legal and analytic discussion about the Muslim experience at the intersection of religion, law and society in contemporary America. In doing so, a demographic sketch of Muslims and Islam in the U.S. is first provided to provide relevant socio-political context. Similarly, the two subsequent sections examine the Separation of Powers Doctrine and the First Amendment’s religious freedom protections, respectively. Thereafter, a substantive discussion employing myriad case studies ensues. These parts explore the following subjects: the now notorious “Muslim Ban;” Islamic faith practices such as religious attire, ritual male circumcision and halal food products; religious land use controversies involving mosques, cemeteries and private Islamic educational institutions; and the place of religion in public schools and employment. In essence, this essay finds that U.S. democratic institutions – such as the judiciary, executive and legislative branches of local, state and federal government – often act as countervailing forces guarding against official abuses of power in furtherance of religious liberty. In so far as these institutions signal official approval for Islamophobia – against citizens or immigrants – they help create a precedent for the government to similarly mark other minority groups for disfavored treatment in the future.