St. Patrick Day parades doing okay considering how American courts are dealing with religious freedom.

This St. Patrick’s Day was memorable because, in New York as well as Boston, gays openly marched in massive parades celebrating Irish culture.

Not everyone was happy about this. Traditionalists feel this is a violation of church law, which is a central part of the St. Patrick’s Day celebration. They feel their religious freedom is being taken away.

Meanwhile, some gay activists feel the New York parade didn’t go far enough in welcoming a wide range of gay Irish marchers. They feel their right to express their Irishness is being restricted.

This split in the Irish community reflects a broader divide in America when it comes to religious freedom. The split is so severe that a certain segment of the population is screaming for more religious freedom while at the same time supporting laws designed to restrict religious influence.

The really weird thing -- to use blunt language -- is that certain Christians are condemning Islamic law, while at the same time unwittingly making it easier for strict devotees of Islam to practice their faith.

Only in America!

First up is a movement that has come to be called American Laws for American Courts. A number of states have passed laws forbidding judges to consider “foreign” laws in their rulings. If this sounds absurdly unnecessary, that’s because it is.

This all began back in 2010, when anti-Islamic Oklahoma lawmakers explicitly banned use of Sharia law in state courts. Similar efforts in other states have targeted all “foreign” laws, since it is clearly bigoted to target a single religion.

Now, you might ask: Where are all these judges who are dismissing local, state and federal constitutional laws and instead consulting “foreign” laws? Well, there really are none.

There was one 2009 case in New Jersey where a (quite dumb) judge seemed to imply that a devout Muslim husband did not pose a threat to his wife who was seeking a restraining order. The judge cited the man’s faith. Appropriately, the judge’s decision was overturned.

Since then, however, right wingers have subtly or not-so-subtly called for laws banning Sharia or other “foreign” laws, even though there is no evidence that judges are desperately seeking a replacement for the U.S. Constitution.

The irony here for Irish Americans is that they themselves often adhere to the “foreign” laws of the Roman Catholic church. Just not in a court of law.

It’s also interesting to note that a century ago “foreign” influence was pretty much a synonym for Catholicism, just as today it is an unspoken stand-in for Islam.

Here’s where things get really interesting. Many of the people who support American Laws for American Courts also tend to support religious freedom laws such as the one that recently raised such a stink in Indiana. The law initially protected the religious freedom of, say, a devoutly Christian or Catholic baker who chose not to cater a gay wedding. Why, after all, should the baker violate his religious beliefs?

Lawmakers in Indiana have been scrambling to change this law because it seems to allow folks to discriminate. As was the case with St. Patrick’s Day parades, national corporations joined gay rights groups calling for changes in the law.

But wait a minute. Republican supporters of religious freedom laws argue that gays and others oppress a devout person’s right to follow their Christian beliefs. But such religious freedom laws might also protect -- drum roll please! -- strict devotees of Sharia law!

This even though some of the very same people who support religious freedom legislation also oppose “foreign” laws and support American Laws for American Courts legislation.

In fact, when a politician cites his Christian beliefs, isn’t that a “foreign” influence?

Compared to this mess, it looks like the folks who run the big St. Patrick’s Day parades are actually getting things right, in terms of balancing religious freedom and anti-discrimination. But perhaps parade organizers should pass an ordinance keeping Sharia influence out of the 2016 parade. You know, just in case!

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