Texas House Bill 562 is supposedly meant to keep foreign laws, especially those related to marriage and parental rights, out of American courts, but others have claimed it’s a measure against Sharia Law that generalizes the muslim faith and promotes Islamophobia.
The bill doesn’t mention any specific body of law, religious or otherwise.
"It's just to provide some belt and suspenders to make sure that, with judicial discretion, we don't trump Texas law, American law, with a foreign law regarding family law,” Republican Sen. Donna Campbell of New Braunfels said.
The bill passed through the state Senate last week and will head to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk next.
Sharia law is a religious tribunal, which is voluntary in the U.S. If participants are unhappy with the results, they can turn to the state or federal legal system.
Sharia’s counterparts, such as the Jewish Beth Din ("House of Judgment" in Hebrew), have existed uncontroversially in the U.S. since 1960. A report published by the Center for American Progress pointed out that religious tribunals are generally considered acceptable “provided [they do] not violate U.S. public policy.”
The report added: "While certain versions of Sharia are undoubtedly inimical to American constitutional values, treating these versions as the only authentic understanding of Islam – the religion of more than a billion people around the world – both ignores the diversity of interpretations of Islam and casts suspicion on all Muslims.”
Though Christian communities like the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Utah and Arizona and the Amish of Ohio and Pennsylvania also use religious tribunals, Muslim leaders and organizations have criticized the bill as being an attack on their religious freedom.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations wrote in a letter to the Texas House of Representatives this year: “Supporters of anti-foreign laws fail to acknowledge that American courts are already required to adhere to U.S. law. Anti-foreign legislation infringes on the constitutionally protected right to choose Islamic marriage contracts, implement Islamic wills or to be buried according to one's religious beliefs.”
The American Bar Association has also objected to the ban, arguing that it can create legal uncertainty.
Democratic Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin asked Campbell if she knew of a case where foreign law was used in Texas.
"What foreign law are you attempting to prevent being used, and can you give examples of where it has created a problem in the state?" Watson asked.
"No foreign law," Campbell replied. "This just provides a context for judicial discretion."
It is unclear if Abbott will veto the bill or sign it into law.