BOISE — The Idaho House passed a bill Tuesday to ban the application of foreign law in Idaho courts. While the bill’s text doesn’t contain the word “Sharia,” for the last three years its sponsor, Rep. Eric Redman, R-Athol, has introduced similar bills by warning of the encroachment of Sharia in courts around the United States.
Idaho courts do not apply Sharia. Not one instance has ever been documented. But Redman said that isn’t a reason to oppose his bill.
“The whole purpose of it is that we will not have any foreign law defile our constitutional laws,” Redman said on the House floor.
Redman pointed to a 2014 report, which he characterized as a “study,” finding that U.S. judges opted to apply Sharia in one in five cases.
The report was authored by the Center for Security Policy, a group that is widely considered an anti-Islamic hate group whose founder, Frank Gaffney Jr., is considered a conspiracy theorist.
Gaffney has made a number of wild claims over the years. Among them, he claimed that Grover Norquist, a major conservative operative and the architect of an influential anti-tax-increase pledge most Republicans in Congress sign, was a secret agent of the Muslim Brotherhood. Gaffney led a charge to ban Norquist from conservative gatherings until Gaffney himself was instead banned.
Gaffney wrote in the introduction to the study Redman cited: “This short publication is the latest product of that ongoing effort focused on a real, present and growing danger to America’s constitutional, democratic system: the Islamic doctrine known as Shariah.”
But a close reading of the cases cited in the report shows the cited cases did not involve application of Sharia in U.S. courts at all. The most widely cited case, for example, involved a wife seeking a restraining order against her husband in New Jersey. Both were citizens of Morocco. The wife sought a permanent restraining order against her husband, alleging he had physically abused and raped her.
In that case, a judge found that the husband was unable to form the criminal intent required for a sexual assault conviction under New Jersey law because of the husband’s religious belief that a wife is required to have sex with her husband when he wants. The finding was reversed on appeal and a permanent restraining order was issued.
The lower court was found to have misapplied New Jersey state law in the case, but it was not decided on the basis of Sharia or any other religious or foreign law.
The bill was opposed by Democrats and many Republicans.
Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, asked why the bill contained a special carve-out that allows companies to enter contracts that will be governed by foreign laws. Redman said that was to ensure Idaho businesses could operate in contracts with foreign companies.
“It appears to be stripping that freedom of contract from individuals,” Rubel said. “It restores it to corporations, but not to individuals.”
Rep. Elaine Smith, D-Pocatello, said she opposed the bill because it is unnecessary.
“Idaho courts are protecting our freedoms and our laws,” she said. “I truly believe this is a bill that is not necessary.”
Rep. Caroline Troy, R-Lewiston, opposed the bill, saying it put into question the integrity of Idaho judges.
“Our judges swear to uphold the Constitution of the United States and of Idaho and uphold our laws,” she said.
Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, backed the bill, saying it was necessary to recognize the “religious foundations” of American civil law.
“Sharia may have a religious foundation, but it is a civil code, a civil process,” Barbieri argued. “And that civil process is in direct contravention to American jurisprudence.”
The bill passed 44-24.
Locally, Rep. Neil Anderson, R-Blackfoot; Rep. Van Burtenshaw, R-Terreton; Rep. Marc Gibbs, R-Grace; and Rep. Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree opposed the bill.
Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls; Rep. Karey Hanks, R-St. Anthony; Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls; Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Bone; Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley; Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg; Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg; Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls; and Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls supported the bill.