Op-Ed: Thoughts of an American Muslim on Independence Day

By Nihad Awad

Word count: 713

As we mark one of history's most triumphant acts of liberty, I want to share with you some of the many things America's Muslims are doing to preserve this fundamental principle of the American identity.

The revolution we honor each year on July 4th was in part sparked by unreasonable government intrusions into individual liberty. In 1761, Boston lawyer James Otis spoke against overly-broad warrants issued by the British government. These Writs of Assistance allowed the crown's agents to search any house or ship they wished, without any specific reason. John Adams -- signer of the Declaration of Independence and our nation''s second president -- said of Otis' speech, "Then and there, the child Independence was born."

In times of threat, public opinion often shifts away from liberty. Ten years after the 9/11 terror attacks, the Pew Research Center found that a troubling number of Americans supported government monitoring of credit card transactions (42%) and phone calls (29%). Similarly, the Associated Press found disconcerting percentages of Americans embracing the ideas of warrantless monitoring of domestic phone calls (23%) and email (30%).

A lawsuit filed on behalf of a California Muslim serves as one example of turning to the Constitution to preserve American liberty from over-broad or warrantless government intrusions into individual liberty. The lawsuit asserts that the FBI violated Yasir Afifi's First, Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights when the bureau failed to obtain a warrant to place a GPS tracking device on his car to monitor his daily activities.

American liberty is about going before a judge, providing reasonable suspicion and getting a warrant, not about unchecked government power to intrude into a person's life.

Liberty in the form of free exercise of religion is also crucial to our nation. Everyone who went to elementary school in this country knows the pilgrims came to the New World to escape religious persecution in Europe.

In 2011, 54 bills or amendments aimed at interfering with Muslims' religious practices -- so-called "anti-sharia" bills -- were considered in 25 states and the U.S. Congress. This trend continues today. It is often carried out under the banner of a conspiracy theory that asserts Muslims are working to undermine the Constitution and replace it with Islamic law.

Yet we know that no religious code can replace American law. Article VI, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution clearly states, "This Constitution ... shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby."

Laws intended to target Muslims have been passed in Oklahoma, Tennessee, Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, and South Dakota. This is a serious threat to the First Amendment, which prohibits government from making any law "respecting an establishment of religion."

Muslims, along with interfaith and business partners, have been active in opposing such bills. The 2010 amendment to Oklahoma's state constitution, which violates the First Amendment by explicitly subjecting Islam to government censure, immediately faced a legal challenge from a Muslim living in that state. A federal judge put the law on hold after determining that the challenge had merit and will likely result in the law being ruled unconstitutional.

There are countless examples of Muslims defending American liberty. Muslims have worked to undo the sections of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that allow for indefinite detention of Americans without charge or trial. The NDAA is unconstitutional because it disregards the Fifth Amendment guarantee of due process for "all persons" and the Sixth Amendment right to a fair and speedy trial.

When presidential candidates Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich asserted that they would impose loyalty oaths on Muslims who may have wanted to serve in their administrations, Muslims again asserted American principles, pointing out that Article VI of the Constitution prohibits "religious tests" for public office. America is about who merits the position, not what their faith might be.

I am grateful for the opportunity to live the American dream and help fulfill that dream for all our nation's citizens. On July 4th, I will join my fellow Americans of all beliefs and backgrounds to mark the courage the Founding Fathers showed in asserting liberty from a tyrannical British king. The next day, I will go back to defending American ideals, because that is what my faith compels me to do.

 

[Nihad Awad is national executive director for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties organization. He can be contacted at: [email protected] ]

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