Is There a Double Standard in Tim Pawlenty’s Disavowal of Sharia-Compliant Mortgages?

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Adam Serwer writes today about a state mortgage program set up in Minnesota during Tim Pawlenty’s tenure that structured loans to avoid interest payments barred under Islamic law. He speculates it could become a problem for the ambitious Pawlenty among conservatives who “believe Sharia-compliant finance is part of a ‘stealth jihad’ to subvert the Constitution.”

Ben Smith asked for some clarification from Pawlenty spokesman Alex Conant. “Fortunately, only about three people actually used the program before it was terminated at the Governor’s direction,” he said. As to Pawlenty’s reason for ending the program: “The United States should be governed by the U.S. Constitution, not religious laws,” he said.

Because the Constitution doesn’t weigh in one way or another on interest payments and the program didn’t forbid non-Muslims from making them, I’m not sure I entirely follow, but it’s well within a governor’s prerogative to decide what kind of programs to operate with taxpayer dollars. In the broadest sense, the initiative accommodates for religious preferences in a state matter. Those laws, unlike, say, laws mandating adherence to a religious doctrine, haven’t historically been found unconstitutional. Other examples might include any number of faith-based initiatives, New York’s kosher food regulations or even so-called “Blue Laws” that prohibit alcohol sales on Sundays in certain states.

Pawlenty was quite friendly to faith-state partnerships and considerations as governor. Take for example this statement from a fact sheet put out by the George W. Bush White House:

Governor Pawlenty Created The Governor’s Council On Faith-Based And Community Initiatives On October 7, 2005 By Executive Order. The Council works “to develop a closer connection between the state government and faith and community organizations by increasing the access to existing funding resources, reducing barriers to delivering services and promoting best practices.” Chief of Staff Matt Kramer says, “There is no Governor more supportive of faith and service.”

The statement “The United States should be governed by the U.S. Constitution, not religious laws” is of course true on it’s face, regardless of relevance to this particular issue. But it actually reminded me of a big applause line Pawlenty recently delivered in a speech to Iowa Evangelicals. “The Constitution was designed to protect people of faith from government, not to protect government from people of faith,” he said. There’s not necessarily an inherent contradiction between the two, but they at least seem to have been made in different spirits.

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