Notable Muslim religious liberty lawyer to give lecture at OU on experiences, expertise

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When Islam is Not a Religion

Religious liberty lawyer Asma Uddin will hold a public lecture Nov. 7.

A renowned religious liberty lawyer will hold a public lecture over threats to Muslims’ religious freedom at 7 p.m. on Nov. 7 in the Frontier Room in the Oklahoma Memorial Union.

Asma Uddin, the speaker for the event, is a Muslim and a religious liberty lawyer, and her lecture will touch on her experiences in both areas, according to a flier about the lecture. Uddin has worked on the U.S. Supreme Court and federal appellate court cases, testified before Congress, produced and advised documentaries, and recently published a book, “When Islam Is Not a Religion.”

Allen Hertzke, David Ross Boyd professor of political science and one of the organizers of the event, said he has known Uddin for many years because of his work on religious liberty issues. 

“I’m teaching my class on religion in the Constitution, where we look at all the Supreme Court cases on free exercise and establishment law,” Hertzke said. “One of the books — a supplementary reader — is this edited volume that we produced here at the University of Oklahoma, and one of the contributors was Asma Uddin.”

Hertzke said, as a lawyer that defends her clients’ religious freedom, Uddin’s contribution to the book and her experiences relating to religion are unique. 

“She’s noticed kind of what she sees as an ominous trend — that in various places around the country, people are making arguments that Islam is  ‘Not a religion — it’s an ideology,’ and doesn’t deserve the same protections,” Hertzke said. “So she finds that ominous, because in her view — and I share this view — if you infringe on the religious freedom of one group, it undermines the universality of that argument.” 

He said he has two main goals for the event: to help students understand the importance of American religious freedom and to expose them to religions they may be less familiar with. 

“Because of developments in the Middle East and all the wars in the Middle East, Islam is very much in the news," Hertzke said. "Most American Muslims feel that they unfairly need to make their case that they are part of the American pluralist fabric.”

Hertzke said Uddin’s lecture will serve as a reminder of the importance of the Muslim presence in the United States. 

“I think it’s also an opportunity for a prominent American Muslim to also convey, ‘Well, we’re here, we’re part of this civic fabric. And in fact, not only that, but as a Muslim lawyer, I take on cases of other religious groups, so I defend religious liberty for all.’ I think that’s a good message,” Hertzke said.  

A book signing for “Why Islam Is Not a Religion” will happen before and after the lecture. The lecture is free to attend and is sponsored by the department of political science, the department of religious studies and the Institute for the American Constitutional Heritage.

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