Sunday, November 29, 2015

Religion, Refugees and the Law: Where Jesus Meets Muhammad Today

 By Rudy Barnes, Jr., November 29, 2015

            The teachings of Jesus and Muhammad continue to resonate throughout the world, and where Muslim refugees seek asylum in Europe and America the relationship of those teachings to politics and the law has created points of conflict.  Senator Ted Cruz has said that no Muslims—only Christians—should be admitted to the U.S., while President Obama has said that a religious test to evaluate asylum seekers would be “shameful” and “not American.”  Can religion be considered in deciding whether to admit refugees to the U.S.?

            The answer is yes—but Michael W. McConnell has pointed out that both Cruz and Obama are wrong.  While religious belief should not be the basis for excluding refugees, it should be considered in deciding who to admit as refugees.  The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 defines a refugee as a person who has fled from a country and cannot return because of a well-founded fear of persecution on account of religion—as well as race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.

            There are other ways a person’s religion can be relevant to their refugee status.  All refugees admitted to the U.S. should accept the Constitution as the supreme law of the land, but fundamentalist Muslims who put Islamic law (shari’a) above secular law and do not recognize government as separate from their religion cannot do that.  That is evident in the apostasy and blasphemy laws in Islamic cultures that preclude the freedoms of religion and speech that are an integral part of the U.S. Constitution and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights.

            The concept of legitimacy with its two components of voluntary moral standards and coercive legal standards can help resolve these issues of politics and law.  So long as religious rules of behavior are voluntary and not imposed on others as coercive legal standards, they are compatible with democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law.  But when a religion advocates God-made law over libertarian human rights and man-made secular law, it is subversive to the principles of libertarian democracy.

            It is on this point that Judaism, Christianity and Islam differ.  Moses and Muhammad both taught the supremacy of God’s law as a standard of legitimacy and righteousness.  Jesus was a Jew who taught the supremacy of love over law and summarized that principle in the greatest commandmentto love God and your neighbor as yourself—including your unbelieving neighbor.  Putting the primacy of love over law allows believers to embrace advances in knowledge and reason, including democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law, while the holy laws of Moses and Muhammad keep believers mired in the obsolescence of ancient times.

            At the root of religious conflict today are religious laws that fundamentalists seek to impose on others.  If Jesus and Muhammad were to meet today, they would embrace the concept of love over law and seek to reconcile their followers into a universal family of God.  They would emphasize their teachings as moral imperatives of faith rather than coercive laws to prevent their followers from imposing a tyrannical theocracy, and would recognize advances in knowledge, reason and the concepts of libertarian democracy as matters of faith as well as law.

            Religion is growing around the world, and the Pew Research Center has predicted that Islam will overtake Christianity as the world’s largest religion by 2070.  Religion will continue to play a major role in shaping cultural values and law in the future, for good and for bad.  Islam is in transition, and Muslims will determine whether their religion is compatible with libertarian democracy and human rights or is a form Islamism that seeks to impose shari’a on others. 

            Islamist terrorism depends upon the legitimacy of Islamism which has been enhanced among young Muslims by U.S. military interventions in the Middle East and sustained by apostasy and blasphemy laws that prohibit any criticism of political Islam.  The freedoms of religion and speech would allow moderate Muslims to challenge the legitimacy of Islamism with democracy, libertarian human rights and the secular rule of law, and that would promote justice and peace in Islam and minimize the threat of Islamist terrorism to the rest of the world.

            The focus of this website has been on the moral imperatives of faith as standards of legitimacy rather than on mystical beliefs.  The greatest commandment to love God and neighbor brings together the moral and mystical dimensions of religion, and it is a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims.  Imposing religious laws on others is not an act of love.  If we love our neighbors we will seek to liberate them from the oppression of fundamentalist religion so that they can experience the freedoms of libertarian democracy and the secular rule of law.

Notes and References to Resources:           

Previous blogs on related topics are: Religion and New Beginnings: Salvation and Reconciliation into the Family of God, January 4, 2015; The Greatest Commandment, January 11, 2015; Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy, January 18, 2015; Jesus Meets Muhammad: Is There a Common Word of Faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims Today? January 25, 2015; Faith as a Source of Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy, April 12, 2015; Religion and Human Rights, February 22, 2015; Religion, Human Rights and National Security, May 10, 2015; De Oppresso Liber: Where Religion and Politics Intersect, May 24, 2015; The Future of Religion: In Decline and Growing, June 7, 2015; Fear and Fundamentalism, July 26, 2015; Legitimacy as a Context and Paradigm to Resolve Religious Conflict, August 23, 2015; The European Refugee Crisis and Radical Islam, September 6, 2015; The Muslim Stranger: A Good Neighbor or a Threat, October 25, 2015; A Containment Strategy to Defeat Islamist Terrorism, November 1, 2015; and American Exceptionalism: The Power of Persuasion or Coercion, November 15, 2015.

On how religion and the law relate to legitimacy, see the Introductionto The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy (The J&M Book), at pages 10-14 posted at, and see Religion, Legitimacy and the Law: Shari’a, Democracy and Human Rights, posted at

On Michael W. McConnell’s commentary on religion, refugees and the law, see

On a promising movement in Indonesia that is challenging the legitimacy of radical Islamism, see

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