Starting this year, Muslims in Ontario can settle their disputes in religious Shariah courts. This development shocked pundits on both sides of the border: Andrew Sullivan wrote that it's "horrifying," the Muslim-bashing blog Little Green Footballs called it "dangerous and utterly wrong-headed," and various writers wondered whether this meant Canadian women could be stoned to death for adultery. But there's an important difference between Canada's Shariah courts and those of, say, Afghanistan: In Ontario, no one will be forced to follow Islamic law.
Indeed, Muslims there are simply setting up the same sort of voluntary institutions that Ontarian Jews have enjoyed for centuries. As Rabbi Reuven Tradburks told The Washington Post, traditional Jewish courts, known as batei din, "have been operating in Toronto for as long as Jews have been here." A less formalized Koranic arbitration system already exists in Ontario; the new Islamic Court of Civil Justice will merely make the process official, under the framework set by the Ontario Arbitration Act of 1991. Corporal punishment will be barred, and decisions that violate individual rights can be struck down by the public courts, so adulterers won't have to fear any stonings.
In the United States, citizens unhappy with the government's expensive and time-consuming courts enjoy a range of other options, from the American Arbitration Association to our own batei din to Judge Judy, The People's Court, and other products of the latest religion to take America by storm: reality television. They can even approach their local imam.