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February 4, 2014 4

Numerous Anti-Sharia Bills Filed For 2014

So-called “Appli­ca­tion of For­eign Law” leg­is­la­tion – a type of neu­trally worded anti-Sharia bill — is based on the unfounded con­spir­acy the­ory that Mus­lims seek to infil­trate the Amer­i­can court sys­tem.  Ten For­eign Law bills have already been filed in state leg­is­la­tures for 2014.  And six states have these laws on the books, plus a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment is on Alabama’s next statewide ballot.


Gen­er­ally speak­ing, these bills pro­hibit a court, arbi­tra­tor or medi­a­tor from con­sid­er­ing laws of other nations or reli­gious laws that are in any way incon­sis­tent, even tech­ni­cally, with fed­eral or state con­sti­tu­tions.  At first glance, this pro­hi­bi­tion may have a knee-jerk appeal.  But no for­eign body of law is com­pletely com­pli­ant with all con­sti­tu­tional require­ments, includ­ing Eng­lish law on which the U.S. legal sys­tem is based.   For that rea­son, these bills specif­i­cally exempt Eng­lish law – thereby expos­ing their fallacy.


In a global econ­omy, U.S. courts reg­u­larly con­sider for­eign law, includ­ing reli­gious law, with­out issue because strong legal safe­guards are already in place.  They and other legal bod­ies are pro­hib­ited from apply­ing for­eign law in any way that is fun­da­men­tally unfair or would entan­gle the state with religion.

Aside from being unnec­es­sary, For­eign Law bills are harm­ful to reli­gious free­dom.  For instance, they effec­tively bar obser­vant Jews in the U.S. from using reli­gious tri­bunals (Bet Dins) to arbi­trate their divorces, as well as pro­hibit recog­ni­tion of Israeli divorce of Jews all of which are issued by Bet Dins.  Cer­tain Chris­t­ian reli­gious arbi­tra­tion or medi­a­tion could be neg­a­tively impacted by For­eign Law bills.  And broadly worded bills could inter­fere with the inter­nal gov­er­nance of the Catholic Church and other reli­gious institutions.

These bills also raise seri­ous con­sti­tu­tional issues, includ­ing fed­eral pre­emp­tion, sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers, free­dom to con­tract and inter­fer­ence with for­eign affairs.  For these and other rea­sons the Amer­ica Bar Asso­ci­a­tion is on record oppos­ing For­eign Law legislation.

State leg­is­la­tures should not be wast­ing their time and tax­payer dol­lars on For­eign Law bills. They are the prover­bial solu­tion in search of prob­lem that cod­ify cam­ou­flaged anti-Muslim big­otry and harm the rights of others.

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