From Hollywood to Eddyville: Battles of Religion and Freedom

Religion permeates everything that we do. Even a lack of belief in God—atheism, if you will— is a belief-system. One of the reasons this country was formed initially was because of religious oppression in England. That’s why freedom of religion is enshrined in the First Amendment to our Constitution. That Amendment contains two provisions related to religion – in essence, a part saying that the government shall not abridge the right to practice our religion and a part saying that the government shall not endorse specific religious beliefs.

The balance between these two parts of the Constitution’s religious freedom provision has been the focus of numerous legal battles. Moreover, battles have raged between the overall right to religious freedom and other rights, both real and perceived. It is not news that we are seeing multiple battles between conflicting rights in many aspects of our culture. This week there were at least three instances where such clashes appeared in the news.

First was the Hollywood Hotel situation, about which we have reported here on Victory Girls. hollywood hotelThis famous hotel is a movie star hang out, and it usually has waiting lists for headliners hoping to be seen during power lunches. But in recent days, it has been all but abandoned by celebrities. The reason is that the hotel’s owner, the Sultan of Brunei, recently announced that his homeland of Brunei would implement Sharia law as the law of the land. Brunei is sovereign state located on the north coast of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia and is the second richest country in Asia after Singapore. Here is how the story is reported by one news agency:

On May 1, 2014, Brunei became the first country in Southeast Asia where the Islamic legal system is enforced on a national level.

Sharia introduction in three steps

Since then, the first phase of Brunei’s penal law reform has been in effect. Violations such as not fasting during Ramadan and missing the Friday prayer can be punished with fines or jail time. The second phase will begin in 12 months: Muslims who commit theft or drink alcohol can then be punished with whippings or even have a limb cut off. In the final phase, capital punishment, including stoning, will be imposed for adultery, sodomy and insulting the prophet Muhammad.

It’s not clear yet how the newly implemented laws will coexist with the civil and penal law inherited from the British colonial power. Joshua Roose, political and social scientist at the Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, however, cautions against knee-jerk reactions: “One has to remember that there is leeway in how strictly you interpret the Sharia.” According to the researcher, it remains to be seen to which degree these laws will actually be applied.

Hollywood seems to have decided that this action by the Sultan in his home country is unacceptable. Just as the NBA is trying to force the owner of the Clippers to sell his NBA team, Hollywood is trying to force the Sultan to sell the Hollywood Hotel. The Sultan is reportedly not interested in selling, however, but rather is looking to buy additional property in New York. Indeed, the Sultan has hired a former Clinton administration official to run damage control for the troubled property.

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Ava Gardner