Columns

Idaho, Indiana, Oregon GOPs Vow to Keep Sharia Law Out of State Courts

A guard stands outside the entrance to a courtroom at the James A. McClure Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Boise, Idaho, on July 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Charlie Litchfield)

Idaho State Rep. Eric Redman’s (R) first piece of legislation introduced when he was a rookie lawmaker in March 2016 was a bill to ban recognition of foreign or Sharia law in Idaho courts.

Redman handed out photos of a severed hand with a caption that read, ”According to Shariah law, theft is punishable by amputation of the right hand,” and text that accused the Prophet Muhammad of being a pedophile.

Redman told the Spokesman-Review he was not worried about a punishment like that being handed down in an Idaho court.

However, Redman said he was worried that Sharia law would find its way into decisions regarding family law.

“Like I say, I think it’s like potatoes to Idaho – it’s Idaho law, and we want to protect it,” Redman said.

Idaho House Minority Leader John Rusche (D) said he was disappointed the House’s Republican leadership allowed Redman’s 2016 effort.

“There is no issue right now, there is no issue. And to bring this piece of legislation and the supporting documents that showed severed hands and called the Prophet Muhammad a pedophile was just beyond the pale,” Rusche said.

“It makes us look really bad yet again, and especially to companies that have international markets,” Rusche added.

Redman’s legislation was modeled after a template created by the American Public Policy Alliance.

The APPA wrote on its website that the “American Laws for American Courts” model legislation “was crafted to protect American citizens’ constitutional rights against the infiltration and incursion of foreign laws and foreign legal doctrines, especially Islamic Shariah Law.”

The APPA also claimed on its website, “Unfortunately, increasingly, foreign laws and legal doctrines, including Shariah law principles, are finding their way into U.S. court cases.”

The Council on Islamic-American Relations issued a statement in which CAIR accused the Redman bill of being part of a “coordinated (APPA)  campaign to demonize Islam and to marginalize American Muslims.”

“Its passage would send a message that Islam is an officially disfavored religion in Idaho,” the CAIR statement said. “Legislation passed with the intent to attack a particular religion is a violation of the Establishment Clause, which requires that government remain neutral in matters of religion.”

That proposal died for lack of support, but this year Redman is trying again.

This time, Redman told the Post-Register, his proposal had been “fine-tuned” to prevent conflicts with international agreements. And he was no longer planning to hand out pictures of severed hands.

But Redman said his motivation is the same.

“Hundreds of thousands of American men and women have fought to protect America’s sovereignty and freedom,” Redman said. And so he felt it necessary to prevent “an encroachment of Sharia law.”

Redman is not alone.

Legislation intended to keep foreign or Sharia law out of courtrooms has been introduced this year in Indiana and Oregon.

Indiana Sen. Travis Holdman (R) has proposed legislation similar to the bill offered by Rep. Redman in Idaho.

And like Redman, Holdman told the Indianapolis Star that his proposal was not intended to specifically target Sharia law.

However, Holdman also said, “Constituents have raised concerns with me, they are concerned about such things as Sharia law being used as a legal standard in our courts.”

Holdman’s bill also includes language that is meant to keep judges from interfering with religious freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Chris Paulson, the director of the gay-rights group Freedom Indiana, is “afraid that could open a can of worms” and allow religious organizations to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

Only 11 days after Holdman presented his legislation in Indiana, Sen. Brian Boquist (R) introduced similar legislation in Oregon.

Like Rep. Redman in Idaho, this is Boquist’s second attempt at winning approval for the legislation to prevent the use of foreign laws in Oregon courts.

However, unlike Redman and Holdman, Boquist would have trouble claiming his proposal cast a wide net. Senate Bill 479 consists of only one sentence: “A court of this state may not consider Sharia law in making judicial decisions.”

Sen. Boquist has not commented on the legislation he introduced in January.

However, it is an exact copy of what he submitted in 2015. He told the Oregonian at the time that it was written and introduced to fulfill a request made by a constituent.

Boquist’s office makes the offer to voters in a mailer: “As always, my office and I are here to serve you,” it says. “If you need help dealing with an agency, have an idea for a new law … please contact me.”

The Arab-American News accused Boquist of “randomly” introducing the legislation in a state that “barely has any Muslims.”

CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said Boquist’s legislation is as “unconstitutional as anti-unicorn legislation.”

He also said that even if it is not passed by the Oregon Legislature, the proposal sends the wrong message to American Muslims.

“They want to marginalize American Muslims and Islam,” Hooper said. “Just to introduce this kind of legislation can have that effect, because it gives Islamophobes a platform.”