Republicans plan on forging ahead with an anti-terrorism bill though members of the Muslim community showed up in force on Capitol Hill Tuesday to convince them otherwise.
More than 200 people opposing the measure giving local authorities more power to pursue and track homegrown terrorism crowded into Legislative Plaza hallways and a House committee room. Many wore head scarves and skullcaps. They told lawmakers the measure is unfairly targeting them.
“This is an oppressive bill which disregards due process and does not make Tennesseans any safer,” Sabina Mohyuddin, a youth coordinator at the Islamic Center of Nashville, told the committee.
The measure originally criminalized the practicing of Sharia, Islamic law that addresses everything from crime and politics to hygiene and diet.
Since then, lawmakers have agreed to pull that wording from the measure but maintain that the bill will give state and local law enforcement the tools they need to pursue people or groups they believe are involved in “homegrown terrorism.”
Mohyuddin and other opponents, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, told the House Judiciary Committee that the bill would still violate due process, free speech and freedom of association. They asked that the committee opt to study the bill over the summer with them and craft it in a way they can all live with.
The sponsors, both high-ranking Republicans, say they’re determined to pass HB1353 this year.
The Muslim community will be unhappy regardless what shape the bill takes, said Senate Sponsor Bill Ketron, a Murfreesboro Republican and caucus chairman. That being the case, why postpone the vote when the Muslim activists will resist the measure anyway, he told TNReport.
“Twelve months from now, they’re going to feel the same way, no matter what we call it, how we change the language. I don’t know any other way to change the language than what we have today,” said Ketron.
The bill will pass this year, echoed Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny, one of the top-ranking Republicans in the state who postponed a vote on the bill Tuesday.
“We’ve written a neutral bill. It treats everybody the same,” he said. “The General Assembly is ready to pass it.”
The Muslim community includes about 30,000 people living within Middle Tennessee and about 60,000 people statewide, according to the Islamic Center of Nashville.
The bill will be heard next week by both House and Senate committees.