Montana may be on the brink of accomplishing what Congress, the federal court system and all but three other states could not: Banning Islamic shariah law from being used in state courts.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but a report that came out more than a year ago found at least 50 cases of foreign Islamic law being used in American courts -- and others say the number is now at at least 100. That means that laws that contradict the Constitution and the laws of our states are being given precedence throughout America under the guise of "religious freedom."
Here's a galling example: In July 2010, a Muslim husband raped his wife, and the judge determined that no sexual assault occurred because Islam forbids wives to refuse sex on demand from their husbands. The appellate court overturned this decision, and a Shariah ruling by an American court was not allowed to stand.
A state Senate committee hearing Friday drew over a dozen speakers from the Flathead Valley supporting a bill that would restrict the use of foreign laws in Montana courts.
Senate Bill 199, introduced by state Sen. Janna Taylor, R-Dayton, would nullify any “court, arbitration or administrative agency ruling” that relies on any foreign law contrary to rights guaranteed to Montanans by the state or U.S. constitutions.
The proposed law provides exceptions for business contracts and tribal court proceedings.
Taylor said her bill would particularly protect the rights of women and children, who do not necessarily receive the same protections under other legal systems that they do in the United States.
About 20 people, most from Kalispell, Bigfork and other locations in the Flathead Valley, spoke in favor of the bill at a Judiciary Committee hearing. They paid particular attention to Sharia law, the Islamic legal code.
“My concern is based on an awareness of the price we’ve paid to secure the freedoms that we have, that are enshrined in our Constitution and in our Bill of Rights,” Tom Osborn of Kalispell said. “It’s just unconscionable that we would allow any law, and in particular Sharia law, to violate the integrity of our rights and our country.”
Osborn referred to a case in which a man in New Jersey was acquitted after beating and raping his wife, with the court deferring to its permissibility under Sharia law. Osborn said ultimately an appellate court overturned the case.
Taylor explained her rationale for the bill by describing a case in which a Muslim man living in Michigan with his wife obtained a divorce in India, unbeknownst to his wife, and under Sharia law she was only granted property that she had brought into the marriage. A Michigan court upheld the Sharia court’s decision until the case was successfully appealed by his wife.
“She had no prior notice, no pronouncement, no right to be represented, no right to a lawyer and no right to be present for a hearing,” Taylor said.
Taylor said there were at least 50 cases in 23 states in which Sharia law was used in deciding a case. She added that the imposition of global laws could also pose a similar threat, referring to the United Nations as a potential source of legal problems in Montana courts.
Despite the insistence by Taylor and many of the speakers that the bill is not aimed at any specific group, several of the comments characterized Islam in strong terms.
“Emboldened by American weakness in the international arena … they are using the rights guaranteed under our Constitution to push their form of law as a religious right,” Davida Constant said. “This seventh-century, Middle Eastern, barbaric Islamic tribal practice … is now a threat to the civilized world.”
Rachel Carroll Rivas, representing the Montana Human Rights Network, was the only speaker to oppose the bill, pointing out that it is modeled after legislation developed by the American Public Policy Alliance called “American Laws for American Courts.”
“While this model is sold merely as a recommitment to upholding our constitutional rights, this model legislation is intended to indeed take on Sharia law,” she said, calling it “an effort to spread an alarmist message about Islam and to keep Muslims in the U.S. on the margins.”
Carroll Rivas also noted that the first version of the bill had explicitly targeted Sharia law and was struck down by a court after four months as law.
Taylor said Tennessee, Louisiana and Kansas had passed similar laws with several other states in the South and Midwest poised to do the same.
There was no committee discussion on the bill. Committee chairman Scott Sales set executive action on the bill for Tuesday.