A growing number of states are targeting what they see as a threat to their court systems: the influence of international, specifically Islamic ‘sharia’ laws. At the same time Muslim pressure groups like CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations) are filing lawsuits and trying to strong arm every state that is proposing its own version of anti-sharia legislation.
USA Today North Carolina last month became the seventh state to pass legislation barring judges from considering foreign law in their decisions, including sharia. The bill awaits the signature of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.
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Six other states — Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Tennessee — have already enacted similar legislation since 2010, and at least 25 have introduced such measures, according to the Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project.
One exception to this trend is Missouri. In June, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed a foreign law bill, saying it would make international adoptions more difficult.
Sharia, or Islamic law, is both a moral code and religious law that governs all aspects of Muslim life, ranging from religious obligations to family relationships. It is derived from the Quran, the main religious text of Islam, and the teachings of Mohammed, the Muslim prophet.
Many of the bills, including North Carolina’s, would apply only in situations in which invoking foreign law would violate a person’s constitutional rights. “They exist purely to create a conversation around what sharia is,” said Corey Saylor, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Advocates of the foreign law bans say they safeguard American constitutional liberties, but critics argue they are unnecessary and could complicate international business and contract law.
The bans could also make it difficult to enforce foreign money judgments and matters of family law, like divorce decrees, that are based on a foreign law or religion, said Matthew Duss, a policy analyst at the left-leaning Center for American Progress. “We’ll have to wait for the test cases to come, but there are a range of issues in which these bans could create real legal uncertainty,” Duss said.
Supporters of the legislation, including Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy, say that Islamic law is slipping into U.S. courts. “It’s an affront to the Constitution of the United States,” he said, “and detrimental to those whose rights are infringed.”
In the U.S., sharia, like other religious law, can enter court through divorce and custody cases or in commercial litigation, mainly when contracts cannot be settled in a religious setting. But the exact frequency of such instances is hard to measure.
A 2011 report by the Center for Security Policy, a Washington, D.C., think tank, cited 50 examples. However, in many of them, constitutional rights trumped foreign or religious laws in judges’ decisions.