The South Carolina House passed a bill on Jan. 28 that would ban Sharia law as a justification during trial. If the legislation is passed by the state Senate, Republican Gov. Nikki Haley would have the choice of signing it into law.
Republican State Rep. Chip Limehouse of Charleston sponsored the bill, which would ban not just Sharia law but any foreign law from being cited within a South Carolina court, Courthouse News reports.
Sharia law is a legal system drawn from the tenets of the Quran, Islam's holy book. Variations of Sharia are the highest rule of the land in fundamentalist Muslim nations such as Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia. The framework has been criticized for constraining freedom of speech, enabling the abuse of women and harsh legal penalties.
Limehouse said his bill would prohibit the religious framework from being used as a legal defense “so an attorney can’t go into state court and say that the defendant that beat up his daughter for going on a data with a non-Muslim was within his rights according to Sharia law.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations sent letters to members of the South Carolina General Assembly asking that they vote against the bill, with senior staff attorney William Burgess writing that it would “send the unconstitutional message that Islam is an officially disfavored religion in the State of South Carolina. This would be in clear violation of the First Amendment’s command that government remain neutral in matters of religion.”
Limehouse and his fellow House members were unable to cite any specific examples of Sharia law being used as a legal defense in South Carolina court. Some of his fellow House members scorned the bill as a distraction.
“You can identify no concern, no entity that this applies to,” Democratic Rep. James Smith of Columbia told Limehouse, according to The Post and Courier. “This is to get people fearful so they vote for you.”
In 2010, former Republican U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich said that Sharia law “is the heart of the enemy movement from which the terrorists spring forth,” according to The Washington Post.
“One of the things I am going to suggest today is a federal law which says no court anywhere in the U.S. under and circumstance is allowed to consider Sharia as a replacement for American law,” Gingrich added.
The American Bar Association stated in 2011 that “initiatives that target an entire religion or stigmatize an entire religious community, such as those explicitly aimed at ‘Sharia law,’ are inconsistent with some of the core principles and ideals of American jurisprudence,” according to Courthouse News.
The argument is that it is so unlikely that Sharia law actually influences American law and practice that to outright ban it would be merely taking a bigoted stance against Islam. Some remain convinced it is a real and present danger.
In early January 2016, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida was asked about the dangers of Sharia law overtaking the U.S. Constitution during a campaign stop in Iowa, according to The Washington Post.
“Guys,” Rubio told the crowd, “that’s not going to happen.”