The Massachusetts state legislature is considering a bill that would promote and privilege the participation of Muslims in state politics. The bill ("An Act promoting the civil rights and inclusion of American Muslims in the commonwealth"), put forth by lawmakers from central and north Massachusetts in January, would establish a commission charged with promoting the participation of Muslims in the governance of the state. In particular, the commission would "identify and recommend qualified American Muslims for appointive positions at all levels of government, including boards and commissions, as the commission considers necessary and appropriate."
The bill is "an unprecedented and unconstitutional effort to promote one religion, Islam, over all others," said Steve Resnicoff, director of DePaul College of Law Center for Jewish Law and Judaic Studies. "It would clearly violate the principle of separation of church and state."
It would be one thing if the proposed commission were intended to combat discrimination against Muslims, Resnicoff said, but that's not the case with this bill. "Instead, it calls for the creation of a government entity that would broadly endeavor to benefit the interests of Muslims," he said.
In addition to identifying and recommending Muslims to serve in appointive positions in the state government, the commission would also advocate for the community. Such advocacy would target leaders in the fields of business, education, health care, and state and local governments. It would also "serve as a liaison between government and private interest groups" on matters of interest to the state's Muslim community.
Members of the commission — who would serve three-year terms — would be appointed by officials including the state governor, the attorney general, and members of the state legislature. In addition to state funding, the 11-member commission would be authorized to solicit donations to cover the cost of its operations, which would include the hiring of a paid executive director, staffers, and volunteers.
A sheet promoting the bill's passage says a commission is necessary because the perspective and experiences of American Muslims "are often absent in policy conversations on issues that directly impact the community."
The proponents of the bill, Senator James B. Eldridge (D-Middlesex and Worcester) and Representative Vanna Howard (D-17th Middlesex), have not responded to repeated requests for comment — including a personal visit to the Statehouse — but it appears the bill was filed with input from the Massachusetts chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
I joined Muslim leaders from across Mass. at the State House office of Sen Eldridge to enthusiastically discuss his bill establish a Muslim American Commission, SD.2376— Tahirah (@tahirahaw) February 23, 2023
An Act promoting the civil rights and inclusion of American Muslims filed with Rep. Vanna Howard. pic.twitter.com/M6RRLvIAOK
In February, Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, CAIR-MA's executive director and chief legal officer, posted a celebratory tweet about the introduction of the bill. It shows Eldridge standing alongside Amatul-Wadud, an astonishing scene, given Amatul-Wadud's professional background.
Writing in The American Spectator in 2017, Orwin Litwin reported that Amatul-Wadud, was "deeply enmeshed in one of the most dangerous extremist groups in the United States." In addition to serving as a lawyer for the group in question, Muslims of America (MOA), which has sent its members to Pakistan for extremist indoctrination and military training, Amatul-Wadud has promoted the conspiracy theories put forth by MOA's founder, Pakistani cleric Mubarak Ali Gilani. Litwin reports that in 2015, Amatul-Wadud "shared a Facebook post "from MOA of a long and unhinged 2014 article by Sheikh Gilani himself."
Litwin reports that in the article Amatul-Wadud retweeted, "Gilani claims that the terror group ISIS (and indeed, Wahhabism itself) is a creation of British intelligence, that 9/11 was an inside job, that WTC-7 was destroyed by controlled demolition, and that America was manipulated into fighting Nazi Germany and Saddam Hussein for the benefit of the Jews."
The article Amatul-Wadud promoted on Facebook declares, among other things, that "there was no need for America to go to war against Hitler. Hitler was not the enemy of America or the American people. There was a mutual animosity between Hitler and the Jews. So, the American people paid a very heavy price for fighting someone else's war."
CAIR-MA has not responded to repeated requests for comment on the bill from FWI.
"The proposed legislation seeking to aid Islam is unconstitutional on its face," said Karen Hurvitz, a Massachusetts attorney who serves as legal counsel for Education Without Indoctrination, a group that fights against anti-American and anti-Israel propaganda in K-12 schools. In particular, it flies in the face of 1947 Supreme Court ruling, Everson v. Bd. Of Education, which states, "The 'establishment of religion' clause in the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can ... pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another."
This ruling, Hurvitz reports, recounted how oppressive religious practices, which early settlers fled Europe to escape, were ironically transplanted to the colonies in North America. "The colonists reached the conviction that individual religious liberty could be achieved best under a government which was stripped of all power to support, or otherwise to assist any or all religions," Hurvitz told FWI.
"Perhaps the proponents of this legislation are unaware of the First Amendment or its history. Perhaps they are used to the twenty-six countries where Islam is the official religion and where practice of other religions is not permitted," she said. "That is not the United States."
Charles Jacobs, founder of the Boston-based Americans for Peace and Tolerance, a prominent counter-Islamist group in Massachusetts, said "This bill is a naked attempt to establish a beachhead for CAIR in Massachusetts state government," adding the assertion that Muslim voices haven't been given a robust hearing in the state is "laughable."
"The Islamic Society of Boston was able to purchase land from the city for a discount in 2003," Jacobs said. "What are they talking about – not being heard? The past governor and other elected officials regularly visit the ISB all the time."
Noting that the commission would be allowed to solicit funds from non-taxpayer sources to cover its expenses, Jacobs indicates donors could have an outsized impact on its messaging.
"We already have enough problems with government agencies being vulnerable to capture by outside interests," he said. "Saudi Arabia funded the construction of a mosque in Boston. Could Qatar end up funding this commission?"
Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and co-founder of the Muslim reform movement, warns that the bill is part of a campaign to promote the influence of Islamism in the state under the guise of identity politics.
"This Islamist commission in Massachusetts is un-American and will only serve to feed Islamist separatist ideas and radicalization," Jasser said. "It is rather incredible that any non-Muslims have joined the supremacist intent behind this commission."
Thomas Sheedy, president of the New York-based Atheists for Liberty, warns that the act could be used "as a Trojan Horse to violate the Establishment Clause and ultimately the religious neutrality guaranteed to all Bay Staters."
"With efforts to theocratize Islam throughout governments at home and abroad by allowing this bill to pass, a dangerous precedent could emerge where secular governance can be halted, causing the demise of any real diversity and inclusion," he said.
The bill has a long road to go before it's enacted, said Rep. Steve Howitt (R-4th Bristol).
"There are over 6,000 bills introduced into the legislature every year," he said. "Very few of them get signed by the governor."
Efforts to elicit a response from the American Civil Liberties Union, which regularly inveighs against the influence of conservative Christians on government policy in the United States, were unsuccessful.
Dexter Van Zile is managing editor of the Middle East Forum publication Focus on Western Islamism.