The Slatest

Debate Over Sharia Panel Riles CPAC Organizers

Is this man secretly ushering in an Islamic fifth column? No, no he is not.

Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference is months away, but conflict is already roiling among its organizers about whether to host a discussion on Islamic law.

One organizer explained that a new initiative, called CPAC University, involves sending content and videos on certain topics to registered attendees in the lead-up to the conference, then discussing these topics in greater detail at the conference. A preliminary copy of the conference’s schedule leaked to Slate lists “Sharia Law” as a topic for CPAC University. One CPAC organizer said that there’s a contentious debate about whether to have a panel on Sharia, a stand-alone presentation, or no discussion of the issue at all.

Some fringe conservative activists are concerned about the emergence of Sharia, or Islamic, law in the United States. In 2010, Oklahoma voters passed a ballot initiative to keep courts in their state from using Sharia to decide cases. The ballot question was called the “Save Our State” amendment, but Oklahomans’ efforts to save their state ran into a roadblock when a federal judge ruled it was unconstitutional. Alabama, meanwhile, passed its own potentially unconstitutional amendment to the state constitution in this past election that would bar courts from considering international legal principles, such as Sharia law.

Now some CPAC organizers want to bring the Sharia debate to the conservative movement’s most important conference. There is disagreement about whether this is a good idea. During the 2013 CPAC conference, the Breitbart News Network held an event featuring conspiracy theorists Frank Gaffney, Pamela Geller, and Robert Spencer, who have argued that Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist “ushered Islamic supremacists into America’s highest levels of government.” Norquist is on the board of the American Conservative Union, which hosts CPAC. Breitbart thought their exclusion from official CPAC events was egregious, and spotlighted the feud at their own event, which drew unflattering coverage over allegations of Islamophobia.

Some CPAC organizers seem to hope to avoid that kind of thing at the next conference. But a discussion of Sharia could make that challenging.

The American Conservative Union did not respond to a request for comment at press time, but we’ll update this post with a response if they send one.

Update, November 14, 5:40 p.m. EST: From Dan Schneider, ACU executive director:

“The official CPAC organizers are receiving ideas and recommendations from a number of people but we have not made any decisions about what will be in the CPAC agenda. We do know that we are going to have a large component of national security issues at CPAC and lots of good ideas have come up to us, including discussions about Sharia.”