A long list of S.C. lawmakers plan to send a message to Palmetto State courts: Don’t apply foreign laws here. A proposed law, which a House panel will consider later this month, is part of a growing movement in legislatures around the country.
Twenty other states are considering similar measures to ban judges from applying the laws of others nations, particularly in custody and marriage cases. Three states – Tennessee, Louisiana and Arizona – already have added the laws to their books. Oklahoma put it in its state Constitution in 2010, a move now being challenged in federal court.
Proponents say the S.C. measure will ensure only U.S. and S.C. laws are applied in Palmetto State courtrooms, and foreign laws do not trump constitutional rights guaranteed to Americans.
Opponents say the proposal addresses a nonexistent issue and, while not specifically naming Islamic Sharia law, smacks of anti-Islamic sentiment. They say such bills target the practice of Sharia, a wide-ranging group of Islamic religious codes and customs that, in some countries, are enforced as law.
State Rep. Wendy Nanney, R-Greenville, the bill’s sponsor, said she introduced the proposal after speaking with several family court judges around the state about problems with child-custody cases. Nanney said her bill does not target Sharia law or any other specific foreign code or law. Her proposal has 27 House co-sponsors, including House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham, R-Lexington, and 26 other Republicans, who control the General Assembly.
A similar bill was introduced in the Senate last year by another Greenville Republican, state Sen. Mike Fair. It failed to clear the subcommittee level. Subcommittee members sent a letter to the state’s family court judges to gauge whether Sharia or other foreign laws were impacting S.C. custody and divorce cases. “We heard no indication from any of the judges that there was a problem,” said state Sen Larry Martin, R-Pickens.
Liberal groups, including the S.C. Progressive Network, say the proposal is a waste of legislative time. “I’m much more concerned with laws being imposed by aliens from the Planet Oz,” said Brett Bursey, the group’s director. “A stealth-alien invasion of the minds of our legislators is the most plausible explanation for their obsession with fixing things that aren’t broken.”
At least one national group, the New Jersey-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, which works to promote understanding of Islam, says the intent of the state proposals is devious.
“There’s no mistaking the intent of these bills. It’s to provide a mechanism for channeling and cultivating anti-Muslim sentiment,” said council attorney Gadier Abbas. Recent versions of the bills – like South Carolina’s – do not specifically mention Sharia law, but the intent is clear, Abbas said.
“There are some misconceptions about Islam in the United States,” he said. “That, coupled with a very vocal and well-organized minority of organizations and figures that have had for their mission, for years now, to ensure Muslims are not treated as equals in the United States, is creating this new effort to bring inequality into the laws. It’s alarming.”
Abbas said there are no valid fears of foreign laws being applied in U.S. courtrooms. “Only if American law allows for it does religious tradition or foreign laws even come into play.”