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Talk about bad timing.
As over 100 Georgians gathered in Atlanta last Thursday to mourn three slain Muslim college students, conservative activists in Fayetteville were holding an event about the threat “Sharia law” supposedly poses to America.
The event host, the Greater Republican Women’s Club of Fayette County, hopes to revive a defeated House bill that would ban Georgia courts from enforcing any and all foreign law, particularly Islamic law. The keynote speaker: David Bores, a former Georgia law enforcement officer and self-proclaimed expert on Islam.
I probably wasn’t the target audience for Mr. Bores’ speech.
After all, I am an attorney who understands that the government must treat all Americans equally under the law, no matter their religion. I am also a longtime Georgia resident who appreciates the state's increasing political, ethnic and religious diversity.
Nonetheless, I attended Mr. Bores' Feb. 12 presentation.
What I heard there should not have surprised me. Mr. Bores spent an hour assailing Islam with what I will politely describe as misinformation, blaming “Sharia law” for everything from honor killings to female genital mutilation, despite the fact that these are disgusting cultural practices that have absolutely nothing to do with Islam.
Among the other claims that anyone could easily disprove with a Google search: the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the Department of Homeland Security; President Obama might be a closet Muslim; and Al-Qaeda and ISIS accurately reflect Islamic beliefs.
After frightening his audience half-to-death with such boilerplate Islamophobia, Mr. Bores called on them to support a bill that would ban Georgia courts from enforcing foreign law, including private contracts based on Christian, Jewish or Muslim beliefs as well as international business contracts based on the laws of foreign countries.
Of course, the true purpose of the bill is much more limited: discriminating against American Muslims. But it would be unconstitutional for Georgia to blatantly target a particular religion. Oklahoma tried in 2010, passing an anti-Sharia constitutional amendment; a federal judge quickly struck that law down.
To escape such legal challenges, anti-Muslim activists now seek to pass bills banning all foreign law without mentioning any Islamic terms.
But the problem with a broader bill is that it wreaks havoc on everyone—from religious institutions to private corporations.
Are you a Protestant church whose by-laws require internal church disputes to be judged by an arbitrator using Christian law? Sorry. Your arbitrator’s decision is based on biblical—i.e., foreign—law, so Georgia courts might not enforce his or her judgment.
Are you an American corporation that signed a contract with a Japanese company based on Japanese law? Sorry. A Georgia court might not enforce your contract because it includes foreign law.
This is why the ant-foreign law bill went nowhere in last year’s legislative session. Mainstream corporations, organizations and religious institutions opposed it, and they should continue to do so.
Why? Three reasons.
First, “Sharia” does not pose a real threat to America. Just as halacha guides the private lives of Jewish Americans and canon law guides the private lives of Catholic Americans, Sharia directs Muslims to uphold common religious practices: pray to God regularly, tithe annually, do not eat pork, etc. Nothing dangerous about that.
Secondly, Islamic law rarely arises in American courtrooms. When it does, the legal issue usually involves contract, family or estate law. Muslim businessmen sometimes sign contracts that forbid the paying or charging of interest, for usury is forbidden in Islamic law. Muslim couples sometimes sign prenuptial agreements inspired by Islamic beliefs. Deceased Muslims often leave behind wills dividing their property based on Islamic norms. These private agreements and preferences are hardly threats to the homeland.
Third, and most importantly, American law already forbids courts from upholding contracts that violate public policy, hence why no loan shark could ever sue in court to demand a pound of flesh from a defaulted borrower. To the extent that enforcing any term of a contract, last will & testament or prenuptial agreement would violate public policy, a court will not enforce that term, no matter whether the term was inspired by secular, religious or foreign law.
As such, the anti-foreign law movement represents nothing more than a transparent, pointless and craven attempt to discriminate against peaceful American Muslims. The Georgia bill may fail again this year, but the Islamophobic cheerleading for it could engender more hostility towards American Muslims.
As I heard one of the guests at Mr. Bores’ anti-Islam event mutter, “If they’re going to kill us, maybe we should start killing them.”
To local conservatives, I say this: oppose extremism. Oppose discrimination. And if you truly support freedom, oppose reviving this bill.
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