JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Two Missouri lawmakers are proposing measures aimed at barring courts in the state from applying laws from other countries and those based on Sharia, the Islamic religious law.
The Kansas City Star reported Monday that one state lawmaker said his proposed constitutional amendment is necessary because the Islamic legal system is spreading and could threaten Missouri. The other legislator, whose legislation more broadly bans the application of foreign laws in Missouri courts, said the prohibition on applying laws from other nations would prevent judges from "ambushing" people by basing court rulings on foreign laws.
The measures were filed in the Missouri House and have been referred to the chamber's Judiciary Committee.
Several states have considered similar restrictions on using international law. This past November, voters in Oklahoma approved a constitutional amendment that bans the use of Sharia law in state courts, but that since has been challenged as unconstitutional in federal court.
Critics of Missouri's proposals are questioning the motivation for the measures and how they could be applied.
John Bowen, a professor and expert on Islam at Washington University in St. Louis, said Sharia is a set of interpretations of Islamic scripture and not a specific legal code. Bowen said some countries have applied the interpretations in formal laws and that some Muslim communities have set up Sharia councils to handle marriages and the settling of estates, which have a religious component. He said courts generally have been reluctant when people raise religious issues in legal proceedings.
An attorney for the St. Louis chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said the U.S. Constitution already prohibits religion from being used as a basis for laws.
"It's a political stunt being done to fan the flames of intolerance, nothing more," attorney Jim Hacking said.
Missouri Rep. Don Wells proposed a state constitutional amendment that specifically bars judicial consideration of Sharia law and prohibits state courts from examining the legal precepts of other nations or cultures. Wells, R-Cabool, said there is a global push to accept Sharia law that he described as oppressive toward woman and requires violent punishment for minor crimes.
"I think it's just absolutely a guarantee to my children and grandchildren that in the future they will live under the same laws that I grew up under," Wells said.
The other Missouri legislation, sponsored by Rep. Paul Curtman, does not directly reference Sharia law. Under that bill, court and arbitration decisions would be void if they are based on a foreign legal code that does not offer the same protections as the Missouri and U.S. constitutions.
"The principle behind it is that our courts should only acknowledge our laws that are representative of our people," said Curtman, R-Pacific. "That's just a good principle for a democracy in general."
However, that prohibition could pose problems if it were enacted.
Dale Whitman, the former dean of the law school at the University of Missouri-Columbia, said that for example, courts would need to consider foreign marital laws if a couple who married elsewhere sought a divorce in Missouri.
International law is HJR31 and HB708
Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)