Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

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Tim Murphy is a reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. Last summer he logged 22,000 miles while blogging about his cross-country road trip for Mother Jones. His writing has been featured in Slate and the Washington Monthly. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy [at] motherjones [dot] com.

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Tennessee Scraps Sharia References From Anti-Sharia Bill

| Thu Mar. 24, 2011 11:05 AM EDT

A few weeks back we told you about an extreme new bill proposed in Tennessee that defined Islamic law as prima facie treasonous, and made "material support" for Sharia punishable by 15 years in prison. That's a pretty harsh sentence for a constitutionally protected freedom, to be sure, but that was kind of the point. The bill, drafted by an Arizona-based attorney who'd once called for all Muslim non-citizens to be deported, went beyond warnings about some future invasion of Islamic extremists, and instead took on a core tenet of the religion itself.

In this case, at least, massive public pressure seems to have had an effect. After meeting with Muslim leaders, the bill's co-sponsor, Republican State Sen. Bill Ketron, submitted new language that sort of addresses the problem. From The Tennessean:

The new version removes language that described Shariah—the Islamic legal codes that cover everything from the rules of warfare to prayer and diet—as advocating violence and a threat to the United States and Tennessee constitutions. The change makes clear that peaceful religious practices would not be considered a violation, the bill's sponsors said in a statement.

The Council on American–Islamic Relations had promised to file a lawsuit to block the implementation if the bill became law, but now that the overt religious references have been removed, that becomes a lot less likely. Basically, the bill has been converted into a fairly straightforward law concerning material support for terrorism. Of course, the federal government already has a material support for terrorism law—and a quite expansive one at that—so it's not entirely clear why Tennessee needs its own. Stay tuned next week when the Tennessee state legislature authorizes a no-fly zone over Libya.

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Anti-Sharia Activists Raise Alarm Over...Contract Law?

| Wed Mar. 23, 2011 10:33 AM EDT

Yesterday, the St. Petersburg Times reported on a new civil case in Tampa, Florida that's become a cause célèbre on the right:

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Richard Nielsen is being attacked by conservative bloggers after he ruled in a lawsuit March 3 that, to resolve one crucial issue in the case, he will consult a different source.

"This case," the judge wrote, "will proceed under Ecclesiastical Islamic Law."

According to some conservatives, this is a troubling sign that the American legal system is under attack from Sharia law (one activist called it a sign of a new "Islamic Tsunami"). Adam Serwer examines the evidence and says that, actually, this is really, really normal:

The judge however, isn't invoking Islamic law because he simply felt like it, he's doing so because this is essentially a contract dispute in which the agreement was drawn up according to sharia...

Where there's a conflict between civil law and the terms of a contract, civil law holds sway. You could not, for example, sell yourself into slavery or force your spouse to sign a contract where they would be subject to abuse. So the notion that the presence of Islamic law in civil arbitration will inevitably lead to sharia replacing the Constitution is nonsense. This kind of case is a sign of America's growing Muslim population, which for many of those complaining is probably the real source of worry.

Right. The argument you tend to hear from conservatives concerns impending implementation of radical forms of Sharia. That is, if we don't act now, at some indeterminate point in the future the bad kind of Sharia—stoning, for instance—will take hold in the United States and we'll be powerless to stop it. Sounds scary. But stories like this one out of Florida, and the ensuing freakout, reveal that to be somewhat disingenuous. Anti-sharia activists think that any sort of Islamic law is a threat to be taken seriously, even if it's something so mundane as a contract dispute between the Islamic Education Center of Tampa and two aggrieved former trustees—and even if it's not much different from Jewish or Christian codes.

Pawlenty's Pastor: An Evangelical Powerbroker

| Tue Mar. 22, 2011 12:59 PM EDT

As you've probably heard, former GOP Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty launched his presidential exploratory committee yesterday, with a characteristically flashy announcement video. To date, much of his national political exposure has focused more on his regular-guy credentials—he likes to fish and play hockey, and fancies himself as a "Sam's Club Republican" (as opposed to the country club sort). What tends to get overlooked, but probably shouldn't, is his faith. Here's Rose French:

"Pawlenty appeals to a younger evangelical, one who cares about issues beyond abortion and same-sex marriage like...the environment,'' Lindsey said. "He's seen as a fresher face. He's not a brash or harsh evangelical. He seems to embody this...authentic Christian faith. Evangelicals, if anything, have become well-trained on picking up on religious phonies."

To wit: Pawlenty's pastor at Minnesota's Wooddale Church is Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals and a member of President Obama's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Anderson's no lefty—he's an author of the Manhattan Declaration, which called on Christian pastors to oppose abortion and same-sex marriage—but he's also pushed for amnesty for undocumented residents and supported greenhouse gas restrictions.

Going forward, this could be an asset for Pawlenty—the ability to speak sincerely to the party's conservative Christian base, without compromising his ordinary-guy image by coming off as a culture warrior. Leave that to Rick Santorum.

Ron Paul Coin Minter, Pot Priest, Faces 15 Years in Prison

| Mon Mar. 21, 2011 9:52 AM EDT

At least the Ron Paul chocolates are still legal. Bernard Von NotHaus, the "monetary architect" behind the world's only currency emblazoned with Ron Paul's face, has been convicted in federal court for producing counterfeit currency and engaging in "conspiracy" against the United States. From our friends at Indiana's Evansville Courier & Press:

Von NotHaus developed the liberty dollar in 1998 as an "inflation-proof" alternative currency to the U.S. dollar, which he claimed has devalued since the Federal Reserve was established in 1913.

The silver medallions were produced by a private mint in Idaho on behalf of Evansville-based Liberty Services, which also issued paper notes the group said were backed by silver reserves...

According to federal prosecutors, Liberty coins were marked with the dollar sign; the words "dollar," "USA," "Liberty," "Trust in God" (instead of "In God We Trust"); and other features associated with legitimate U.S. coins.

In 2007, federal authorities raided Von NotHaus' Liberty Dollars headquarters in Evansville, and confiscated more than 2 tons of copper, silver, and gold coins. Von NotHaus had made no secret of his ambition, telling a Spokane newspaper, "we're going to be to the Federal Reserve System what Federal Express was to the Postal Service." Since 2009, lawmakers in at least 14 states have introduced legislation to require or encourage state governments to accept payment in gold or silver. In Utah, for instance, a proposed bill would permit citizens to operate their own private mints.

Since the raid, as the Southern Poverty Law Center notes, Von NotHaus has retired from the currency business to found the Free Marijuana Church of Honolulu, where he's a "high priest." He's currently working on a book, tentatively titled, One Toke to God—Two Tokes to Party. Von NotHaus faces up to 15 years in prison.

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