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Georgia lawmakers have given up the latest attempt to pass a thinly veiled anti-Muslim bill. The Georgia House of Representatives advanced House Bill 171 to the Senate on March 2 after removing language that had been supported by anti-Islam activists.
"No court, arbitration panel, administrative agency, or other tribunal shall enforce a foreign law if doing so would violate a right guaranteed by the United States Constitution or the Georgia Constitution," the original bill summary said.
That version of House Bill 171 could have banned Georgia courts from upholding private contracts, agreements and arbitration decisions if they were based, even in part, on a religious tradition, including Jewish, Christian, and Islamic teachings.
"Of course, the true purpose of the bill was much more limited: discriminating against American Muslims," said attorney Edward Ahmed Mitchell, the incoming Executive Director of CAIR Georgia, "but it would be unconstitutional for Georgia to blatantly target a particular religion."
Oklahoma did so in 2010, passing a constitutional amendment that specifically banned "Sharia law."
When a federal judge struck that law down, anti-Muslim activists across America changed tactics. They broadened their proposed bills to ban all "foreign law" without mentioning Islamic terms.
"But the problem with a broader bill is that it would wreak havoc on everyone, from religious institutions to private corporations," Mitchell said, "that's why corporations, organizations and religious institutions opposed the anti-foreign law bill when it came before the House last year."
Last year, the House dropped the proposal after objections from both the business and religious community. But the new 2016 bill sought an end-run around those problems by carving out limited exceptions.
"This Code section shall not apply to a corporation, partnership, limited liability company, business association, sole proprietorship, or other legal entity that contracts to subject itself to foreign law," the original bill said, adding, "this [exception] shall not apply to domestic relation contracts, including, but not limited to, antenuptial agreements or contracts, divorce agreements, adoptions, and other contracts or agreements related to or arising from matters of family law."
Even that revised language could have still interfered with private contracts and tribunal decisions, particularly last wills & testaments as well as prenuptial agreements based on religious tradition.
"That would be as unconstitutional as it is unnecessary," Mitchell said.
Indeed, Islam and other religious traditions rarely arise 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 tradition and deceased Muslims often leave behind wills dividing their property based on Islamic norms.
"These private agreements and preferences are hardly threats to the homeland," Mitchell said.
Furthermore, 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 or tribunal decision would violate public policy, a court would 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," Mitchell stated. "Passing this law would have represented an unconstitutional slap in the face to every Muslim doctor, police officer, engineer, and student who contributes to the state of Georgia."
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