With Idaho’s Legislative Session now in its sixth week, bills are continuing to be proposed, including a bill intended to ban the use of international law in Idaho courts—with a specific aim at banning Shariah law.
Shariah law is religious law based upon the religious rules of Islam. Though there have been no cases of basing any court decision off of Shariah law in Idaho courts, the bill was introduced for a second time by Representative Eric Redman. A similar bill was proposed by Redman last year, but it died after reaching the House floor—an attorney on the State Affairs Committee said it needed amending in the technical areas of the bill. Redman decided to bring the bill back this year, and anticipates it will have much more success.
“My biggest concern is the intrusion of foreign laws over Idaho’s Constitution and the U.S. Constitution,” Redman said. “I’m not trying to hide the fact that Shariah law is one of those foreign laws, since Sharia law is the law of 57 nations in the Middle East.”
Although the bill places a ban on all foreign laws, Shariah law is one of Redman’s primary focuses.
“When you have 57 nations, where Sharia law is their constitution, you do have a concern,” Redman said.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there are currently nine states who have enacted legislation that prevents the use of foreign laws in state courts. The first law of this nature was passed in Oklahoma in 2010 and many more have continued to come up since then.
Critics of these laws have many concerns about their reasoning and implications, particularly how they relate to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
“The outcome of these types of bills is deepening an Islamophobic paranoia that undermines basic freedom of religion values this country was founded on and also harms our counterterrorism efforts abroad,” said Political Science Professor Isaac Castellano. “This plays into the ISIS Al Qaeda narrative that the West is out to destroy Islam.”
The primary reason for these bills popping up across the country is an effort to raise unfounded fears about Islam in an attempt to demonize them, according to Castellano.
Castellano also said this bill may create more problems than it solves, such as the subsequent favoring of one religion over another, obtaining marriage licenses, adoption agreements, divorce decrees, child custody orders, contract laws, arbitration tribunals and foreign treaties.
According to Redman, his amended version of the bill addresses some of these potential legal issues. However, the question still remains as to what existing problems the bill would solve in Idaho.
“I’m not aware of it happening in Idaho today, but you don’t put in the smoke detector after the fire,” Redman said. “I don’t know why it wouldn’t be bipartisan—all we’re doing is trying to protect our laws.”
According to Redman, as of 2014 there have been 146 court cases throughout U.S. history involving Shariah law, and 27 of those cases sided with Shariah law over the law of the state. None of those cases were in Idaho.
One specific case Redman referred to occurred in New Jersey in 2009. A family court judge ruled that a Muslim woman could not receive a restraining order against her husband, who sexually assaulted her, based on Shariah law.
“That is probably the only case that would give credence to the necessity (for this bill),” Castellano said.
However, according to Castellano, this ruling was later overturned and the restraining order was granted to the Muslim woman.
“That’s the type of situation. That means one out of five judges went with Shariah—that’s a problem,” Redman said.
A hearing for this bill is expected to take place this week and Redman expects more support this year. Castellano does not foresee the bill becoming a law in Idaho.
“I don’t know what to tell Representative Redman about how to calm his fears about it, other than to say, ‘Go meet some Muslims in your community and see that those extremists you are really giving fuel to are such a small minority,” Castellano said. “The fact is, Muslims have been in the United States for hundreds of years and they will continue to be. They’re part of the fabric of America and that’s the course of this country whether you like it or not.”