Columbia, S.C. (AP) - A South Carolina proposal would prevent the state's courts from enforcing foreign law, including Islamic Sharia law, though Muslim advocates say it could essentially ban religion from mundane matters such as weddings and even burials.
The bill makes no reference to a specific religion or country, though its sponsors acknowledge they worry about the ultraconservative tenets of Sharia law, or Islamic religious law. At least 13 states have introduced similar measures this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Sen. Mike Fair, a Greenville Republican who is the bill's main sponsor, said there was a need to clarify that cultural customs or foreign laws don't trump
"What we're trying to do is, with certainty, restate the obvious, particularly for our newcomers, that culture from a foreign country or religion does not dictate our law," Fair said.
Muslim advocates, however, fear the law could essentially ban mundane religious practices in legal documents like wills, which may distribute property based on Islamic traditions.
"The backers of these discriminatory proposals realize if they put specific references to Sharia or Muslims, it won't pass constitutional muster," said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based Muslim rights advocacy group.
The South Carolina House sponsor, Rep. Wendy Nanney, R-Greenville, insisted her bill was about international child custody cases and had little to do with Sharia law. But Senate sponsors said they worry about how strict religious laws might be applied to domestic violence and child custody cases.
Hooper dismissed the effort as anti-Muslim political pandering and said it was ridiculous to think a judge would side with someone who misconstrued Islamic principles.
"No judge is going to say, well, this happens in
Gadeir Abbas, a Council attorney in the
"All the Muslim community wants to do is have the right to do what other religious communities do all the time, enact their beliefs lawfully," he said.
Fair, however, said the proposal only applies to foreign or religious laws that conflict with the Constitution.
The issue has come up in
In 1979, an inmate appealed his contempt of court sentence, saying he shouldn't have to testify against a fellow Muslim because it would contradict Islam - and therefore his First Amendment rights. The trial court and state Supreme Court disagreed.
In 2004, a court hearing a divorce case appeal put travel restrictions on a native of