A proposed bill in Pennsylvania is causing a controversy, as the largest Muslim organization in the U.S. claims it is discriminatory toward religious expression and aims specifically to forbid the introduction of Shariah, or Islamic, law in the U.S.
House Bill 2029 is meant to guarantee that no law that is not strictly in accordance with the state and federal Constitution can be observed in the state. The legislation would ban Pennsylvania courts from “the application of foreign law which would impair constitutional rights” and is directed, among other legal systems, against the recognition of Shariah loaw in the state, reports claim. It was written by State Representative Rosemarie Swanger (R, Lebanon), who reportedly said in a memo to the assembly that the bill is designed to preserve rights of liberty that do not exist in some foreign legal systems.
The bill was referred to the committee on judiciary on Nov. 18 and is currently moving through the Pennsylvania legislature.
Swanger also reportedly said recognizing foreign laws could result in women being treated as second-class citizens, a reference understood as alluding to the Shariah Law, which the politician called "inherently hostile to our constitutional liberties," according to media reports.
But local members of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) have attacked the bill, claiming that it is "unconstitutional and un-American."
CAIR-Philadelphia Executive Director Moein Khawaja said in a statement earlier this week: "Sharia is simply principles and guidelines by which observant Muslims live. It is in no way hostile or contrary to the Constitution. We hope the sponsors of the bill are open to learning and understanding how the bill may infringe on the First Amendment rights of people of all faiths in Pennsylvania."
"This is not a new faith we are not a foreign faith and yes this dangerous, clearly stated discriminatory purpose on a publicly circulated document, you just don't get any more troubling than that," CAIR’s Civil Rights Director, Amara Chaudhry said Wednesday during a press conference in Philadephia.
The organization published a statement in which it calls the bill "Islamophobic."
Observers have criticized Shariah as being oppressive toward women and non-Muslim minorities in countries dominated by Islam.
The Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) explains on its website that some interpretations of Shariah law are used to justify cruel punishments like amputation and stoning as well as unequal treatment of women in issues of inheritance, dress and independence. The organization has been monitoring the debate on "whether sharia can coexist with secularism, democracy, or even modernity."
"There are so many varying interpretations of what sharia actually means that in some places it can be incorporated into political systems relatively easily," Steven A. Cook, senior fellow of the CFR for Middle Eastern studies states on the organization's website.
Abdul Karim Bangura, Professor of Research Methodology and Political Science at Howard University in Washington, D.C. and Researcher-In-Residence on Abrahamic Connections and Islamic Peace Studies at the Center of Global Peace at American University told The Christian Post last week that, in his opinion, tradition (religious laws) and modernity (civil laws) are not opposite sides of the same coin -- they are intermingled.
"I do believe that religious laws have a place in modern American society, if they do not impinge upon those who do not adhere to them, since we take great pride in touting to the rest of the world that our society is one that reveres religious tolerance," Bangura told CP via email.
"While religious laws are explicitly based on religious precepts and civil laws are based primarily on legislation...and customs, we cannot deny the fact that many of these customs are derived from religious precepts. In the United States, it is no exaggeration to state that many of our legal customs, and to some extent our Constitution and statues, are rooted in Judeo-Christian precepts."