Uproar over Islam undeserved


POSTED: Monday, May 18, 2009

Legislators' near-unanimous approval of a resolution creating an Islam Day in Hawaii was greeted with anger by many people who mistook it as siding with terrorists. At most, it was an innocuous approval of President Barack Obama's outreach program as he prepares to deliver a major speech next month in Egypt.

Following more than a dozen “;whereas”; clauses in praise of Islam, the resolution designates Sept. 24 as Islam Day. The resolution recognizes “;the rich religious, scientific, cultural and artistic contributions Islam and the Islamic world have made since their founding.”;

“;We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect,”; Obama said before Turkey's Parliament in April. “;We will listen carefully, we will bridge misunderstandings, and we will seek common ground. We will be respectful, even when we do not agree.”;

Sen. Fred Hemmings voted against the resolution, even though the state also recognizes Buddha Day. “;None of those other religions have a good proportion of their followers supporting and perpetrating worldwide terrorism. This is a war against civilization in the name of one religion,”; he said.

That depends on how you define “;a good proportion.”; A study conducted last year by the Gallup polling agency showed that 93 percent of the world's estimated 1.3 billion Muslims are moderates. Only 7 percent considered themselves to be radicals and condoned the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States for political, not religious, reasons.

Big Island doctor and Sen. Josh Green opposed the resolution in the belief that the Legislature's designation of an Islam Day would violate the First Amendment's clause against the government's “;establishment of religion.”; The Constitution “;does not permit the government to favor one religion over another,”; the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii said in a news release, sharing Green's opinion.

However, Islam Day should easily survive the crucial Lemon Test, named after Lemon v. Kurtzman, a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1971. The court ruled succinctly that a law “;must have a secular legislative purpose,”; must have “;its principle or primary effect”; that “;neither advances nor inhibits religion,”; and must not foster “;an excessive government entanglement with religion.”; Yes on all counts.

Gov. Linda Lingle said her office received “;a lot of angry calls from the mainland”; about Islam Day. “;It didn't make any sense,”; Lingle said of the resolution's approval during the middle of a recession. “;You know it's going to get this kind of attention.”;

Rep. Lyla Berg said she introduced the resolution at the request of Hakim Ouansafi, chairman of the Muslim Association of Hawaii, to encourage people to “;become more informed on what the religion is about and the people who are connected with it.”; A minute of research would reveal that the Ku Klux Klan was to Christianity what al-Qaida is to Islam.