Two bills introduced in the Missouri State Assembly are meant to deal with what their sponsors perceive to be the threat of Islamic-based law becoming cited in state courts, including in family law cases. Critics of the bills say they are addressing a problem that does not exist and may be bigoted against Muslims.
The bills are sponsored by Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific, and Rep. Don Wells, R-Cabool. Rep. Wells’ bill would create a constitutional amendment prohibiting judges from using “the legal precepts of other nations or cultures,” specifically mentioning Sharia law as something to be banned. His bill has 106 co-sponsors in the House, 66 percent of membership.
Rep. Wells said that Internet research conducted by himself and an aide convinced him that Sharia is “very oppressive for ladies,” presumably in divorce and other family law cases, and tends to exact violent punishment for even minor crimes. He admitted that there is no evidence that Sharia law has become influential in Missouri courts, but said that a “big push” around the world to make Sharia the law of the land could impact the state in years to come.
According to a professor and Islam expert at Washington University in St. Louis, Sharia is a set of interpretations of Muslim scripture. Sharia influences the civil laws in some countries with a Muslim majority, and in some Western countries, Muslim communities have set up Sharia councils to deal with matters of marriage or settling of estates, the professor said. Such councils have no legal authority and are similar to bodies found in some Orthodox Jewish communities.
Rep. Curtman said that his bill is meant only to prevent judges from using international laws in their decisions. But his bill is nearly identical to a model bill written by an attorney in Arizona. On the attorney’s network of websites, he claims that people who practice Sharia law are likely to be jihadists and should be deported or imprisoned for up to 20 years.
Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, called Rep. Curtman’s bill an example of Islamophobia. She said the supporters of the bill do not understand Islam.
The former dean of the University of Missouri School of Law said that it is impractical to order judges never to consider foreign laws. For example, he said, judges sometimes must apply the marital laws of a foreign country when a couple married in that country wants a divorce in Missouri or for regarding a Washington, DC estate attorney.