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Wednesday, April 24, 2024 | Back issues
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South Carolina Ban on Sharia Law in the Works

(CN) - A bill in the South Carolina Legislature that would prohibit attorneys and defendants from citing Sharia law or any international regulation in court is a step closer to adoption.

After a second reading, the state House passed the provision sponsored by Charleston Rep. Chip Limehouse by a vote of 68-42.

On Friday, in the wake of the vote, the Council on American-Islamic Relations called on the S.C. General Assembly to drop what the group described as the continuation of a national campaign by state lawmakers " demonize Islam and to marginalize American Muslims."

In a letter sent to state Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler Jr., state Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Larry Martin, and state Attorney General Alan Wilson Friday afternoon, William Burgess, senior staff attorney for the council, said the House bill (H. 3521) clearly violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

"This legislation is very similar to the Oklahoma anti-Sharia constitutional amendment that was struck down as a violation of the Establishment Clause in a federal court challenge brought by CAIR," Burgess wrote.

"Deciding in favor of CAIR's lawsuit challenging the amendment, U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange ruled that 'the references to Sharia Law violated the Establishment Clause.' Should this legislation become law, I expect that it would meet the same fate," he said, adding, "As with the Oklahoma amendment, H. 3521 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."

South Carolina lawmakers readily concede they can point to not a single example of someone trying to cite Sharia law, or any international law, in a court within the state.

Nevertheless, Rep. Limehouse believes there's a real need, as the bill states, "to prevent a court or other enforcement authority from enforcing foreign law including, but not limited to, sharia law in this state from a forum outside of the United States or its territories ..."

During a debate on the bill on Thursday, the South Carolina lawmaker amplified his intent, explaining that the law is needed, " "so an attorney can't go into state court and say that the defendant that beat up his daughter for going on a date with a non-Muslim was within his rights according to Sharia law."

But that argument fell flat with House Democrats who accused Limehouse of merely playing politics and playing on people's fears.

But Limehouse held firm, maintaining that "Sharia law is completely inconsistent with our culture."

All the bill does, he said, is "clarify that it will not be recognized in our courts."

Sharia law is the legal framework for legal systems based on Islam. According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, in the past year, 30 similar pieces of legislation have been introduced in 17 states.

It also pointed out that in 2011, the American Bar Association passed a resolution opposing such legislation, noting that it is "duplicative of safeguards that are already enshrined in federal and state law," and 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."

The bill is scheduled for a third reading next week. If it passes again in the House, it will then be sent to the state Senate for consideration.

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