CAIRO - Faith leaders from Muslim, Jewish and Catholic groups have widely criticized a proposed Pennsylvania law to ban courts from considering any religious codes in litigation for ignoring massive ramifications the state faces in its course to criticize Islamic Shari`ah law.
"The real purpose of this bill is to provide a forum for Islamophobic bigots to come to the state assembly hearing and say nasty things about Muslims," Gadeir Abbas, staff attorney with the Council on American Islamic Relations in Washington, DC, told Pittsburgh Post on Monday, December 12.
The anti-Shari`ah new proposed law would ban courts from considering any "foreign legal code or system" that doesn't grant the same basic rights as the federal and state constitutions.
Titled House Bill 2029, it was drafted by anti-Islam activist David Yerushalmi.
Yerushalmi is head of the anti-Islam hate group Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE), which on its now password-protected website offered a policy proposal that would make "adherence to Islam" punishable by 20 years in prison.
Opponents of the law say that American jurisprudence already forbids denying constitutional rights in favor of another code.
In Islam, Shari`ah governs all issues in Muslims' lives from daily prayers to fasting and from, marriage and inheritance to financial disputes.
The Islamic rulings, however, do not apply on non-Muslims, even if in a dispute with non-Muslims.
In US courts, judges can refer to Shari`ah law in Muslim litigation involving cases about divorce and custody proceedings or in commercial litigation.
"American courts do not enforce judgments based on foreign law, whether that's shari`ah-driven or otherwise, if those judgments do not comport with American standards of fairness," Haider Ala Hamoudi, an assistant professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh and an expert on Islamic law, said.
He believes identity politics drives these bills.
"There is an intolerance of members of the community who happen to adhere to the Islamic faith," he said.
The new proposed law also drew fire from American Jews and Catholics who challenged the "unconstitutional and un-American" legislation as targeting Islamic principles, or "Shari`ah."
"In a rush to villainize Muslims, the people backing these bills aren't thinking through the ramifications," Deborah Fidel, executive director of the Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee, told Pittsburgh Post.
Howard Friedman, emeritus professor of law at the University of Toledo, also criticized the law as targeting the freedom of religion.
"When the statute talks about not using another code that denies the rights and privileges granted under the United States Constitution, it's not clear whether that means that it somehow has to be related to this dispute," Friedman said.
"If you read this literally, as long as there is anything that would be contrary to the constitution ... that [law] can't be considered. You've got a statute that probably has a lot of unintended consequences."
The bill was also criticized by Rabbi Scott Aaron, community scholar at the Agency for Jewish Learning in Squirrel Hill, who said Orthodox Judaism doesn't recognize civil divorce, and women can't apply for a religious one.
"When we start restraining access or even wisdom from [religious] legal systems, we are playing with fire constitutionally, Rabbi Aaron said.
We are really violating the basic tenets of what it means to be Americans. Jews, of all people, know that these things start with one community and it works its way out to others," he added.
The proposed Pennsylvania legislation is just one of more than 20 similar bills that have been introduced in state legislatures nationwide in the past year.
Over the past few years, lawmakers in at least two dozen states have introduced proposals last year forbidding local judges from considering Shari`ah when rendering verdicts on issues of divorces and marital disputes.
The statutes have been enacted in three states so far.
In November 2010, a federal court blocked constitutional amendments that would have prohibited the use of Shari`ah in Oklahoma.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents people of all faiths, is concerned about similar bills proposed in two dozen states last year.
"We are concerned that if enacted, such a law might make it impossible, for example, for Orthodox Jewish courts to function. ... Since arbitration by religious tribunals of all faiths has gone on for decades in this country, it is unclear what problem these bills are trying to solve," said Eric Rassbach, deputy director at Becket.