Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
State Rep. Leo Berman
A Texas legislator has proposed a state constitutional amendment that would effectively bar courts in the Lone Star State from considering Islamic, or Shariah, law in deciding cases.
Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, earlier this month submitted House Joint Resolution No. 57, which would amend the Texas Constitution to read, “A court of this state shall uphold the laws of the Constitution of the United States, this Constitution, federal laws and laws of this state. A court of this state may not enforce, consider or apply any religious or cultural law.”
Berman has been a controversial figure in Texas, repeatedly filing bills on today’s hottest constitutional controversies:
Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned Berman’s latest bill, as well as similar measures in other states that would ban Shariah law from American courts. Hooper claims the constitutional amendment is an attack on the religious freedom of Muslims.
“What we are seeing is those that are trying to enact laws targeting the American Muslim community’s constitutional rights realize they are not going to pass legal muster,” Hooper told The American Independent. “So they are finding backdoor, roundabout ways to accomplish the same thing.”
Thomas Kidd, a senior fellow at the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, also criticized Berman’s bill, calling its language an “ill-conceived” attempt to block Shariah in the U.S.
“In the end, this amendment implies that religion and culture cannot influence our law as Texans. The problem is that religion and culture inform all law,” Kidd writes in a Houston Chronicle editorial. “Texans overwhelmingly approved a ban on same-sex marriage in 2005 – would anyone deny that much of the support for this amendment emerged from religious conviction? Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.”
Berman, however, says American courts need to recognize they are bound by constitutional law alone, and not subject to the whims of men or multiculturalism.
“A lot of federal courts are referring to international courts and laws of other countries. We want to make sure our courts are not doing this, especially in regards to cultural laws,” Berman told The American Independent. “If that includes Shariah law, then so be it.”
To become law, HJR No. 57 would have to be passed by both chambers of the Texas legislature, and by the voters in November of this year.
As WND reported, however, a U.S. District Court judge last year granted a permanent injunction against a similar state constitutional amendment in Oklahoma that was passed by nearly 70 percent of the electorate.
Muneer Awad, executive director of CAIR’s Oklahoma chapter, dismissed the attempt as unnecessary, telling The Oklahoman newspaper that “there’s no threat” of Shariah law being enforced in the U.S. and calling it “a legal impossibility.”
One of the chief sponsors of the measure, Oklahoma Rep. Rex Duncan, however, argued that while the threat of Shariah in America is not “imminent,” there’s “a storm on the horizon.”
The United Kingdom, for example, now has 85 separate Shariah courts for Muslims that operate in parallel with the Crown courts of the nation, and one judge in New Jersey already has cited Shariah in a defense of a man accused of assaulting his wife, though the judge’s decision was overturned in appeal.
Furthermore, Oklahoma state Sen. Anthony Sykes, who helped author the measure, said the constitutional amendment and another ballot initiative, which requires official state actions to be conducted in English, reflect the values of Oklahomans.
“Certainly each of these measures had critics, but the crushing margins by which these constitutional amendments passed shows without a doubt that those critics are deeply out of touch with the values and views of Oklahomans, just as Washington, D.C., is out of touch with America,” Sykes said.
The non-profit advocacy group Act for America contributed 250,000 automated telephone calls to voters, warning them of what founder Brigitte Gabriel calls “the destructive effects of this radical legal system in Europe.”
Gabriel called Shariah, which stipulates punishments ranging from chopping off the hand of a thief to death for infidelity, “is an oppressive, discriminatory law system. It suppresses religion, speech.”
“We want to make a very strong message (to Muslims), you are welcome to America, pray to whatever god you want to pray to, the Constitution gives you that right, but in America our law is the Constitution,” she said.
Gabriel said it’s imperative for voters to establish that the U.S. Constitution, and no other document, is the controlling law of the land before the U.S. begins looking like the U.K.
“We are trying to warn Americans to look at what’s happening in Europe. If Europe is any preview, we need to make sure we put up the barriers right now,” she said.
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