Bills to ban use of foreign laws rile groups

A proposal to ban the use of foreign law in Virginia was on its way to passing the House of Delegates, despite objections from religious groups that it was a back-door attack on Islam that could also harm followers of other faiths.

One bill, HB825 from Republican Del. Bob Marshall of Prince William County, would have prohibited judges and state administrators from using any legal code established outside the United States to make decisions. It was one of two proposals this year to address that issue.

Muslim advocates condemned the effort, calling it a thinly veiled attack on Shariah law, their religious tenets. Members of other religious communities joined in, including the Jewish Community Federation, saying the ban also would infringe on their rights, especially to settle certain family matters, such as wills and divorces, according to their faith.

Nonetheless, the House Courts of Justice Committee approved the bill 10-6 and sent it to the full House for consideration.

Proponents of the legislation, such as the conservative Center for Security Policy, argue it’s intended to prevent foreign law from infringing on Americans’ rights, although their discussion focuses only on Shariah law.

A study by the center reported finding 50 cases in 23 states during the past two years in which judges used Shariah law in their decisions. Three were in Virginia: two marriage cases and one child custody dispute, according to the report.

There’s no widespread evidence of judges using foreign law in Virginia or elsewhere, said Corey Saylor, national legislative director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

“It’s a non-issue,” he said. “The Constitution is the law of the land, and to my knowledge no one’s questioning that.”