In a move that’s angered Muslim groups, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has signed a bill that would ban Shariah law and other forms of foreign law from being used in Texas courts.
Texas House Bill 45 — more commonly known as the “American Laws for American Courts” bill — would require the “Texas Supreme Court to adopt rules and provide judicial instruction regarding the application of foreign laws in certain family law cases.”
It states that “litigants in actions under the Family Code involving a marriage relationship or a parent-child relationship are protected against violations of constitutional rights and public policy in the application of foreign law and the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments and arbitration awards by courts of this state by a well-established body of law.”
Breaking this down, what it essentially means is that in cases that involve divorces, child custody, child support or other family disputes, foreign law — including Shariah — cannot be entered into proceedings. Before, said the bill’s author, Republican state Rep. Dan Flynn, spouses could enter into agreements that would apply foreign law to their cases.
“My colleagues and I here at the Texas Legislature want to make sure Texas judges never apply foreign law in Texas courts in violation of constitutional rights and the public policy of our state,” Flynn said, according to Breitbart.
The bill doesn’t mention any particular code by name, simply noting that foreign law is “a law, rule, or code of a jurisdiction outside of the states and territories of the United States.” Instead, it says that U.S. law and Texas law supersedes all law in this area.
However, the Council on American-Islamic Relations released a statement saying that HB 45 “is designed to negatively impact Muslims’ civil rights and to demonize their faith. We believe it aims to prevent Muslims from practicing their faith in areas such as Islamic marriage, divorce, funeral procedures and civil agreements.”
The issues surrounding Shariah law and foreign law in Texas first became an area of contention when a Shariah arbitration court called the Islamic Tribunal was established in the city of Dallas back in 2015, according to Breitbart.
The Islamic Tribunal notes on its website that “(s)imilar religious tribunals have existed for decades in the American Jewish and American Christian faith communities to resolve disputes, most especially within families. These religious tribunals are optional arbitration vehicles that only conduct their work when requested to do so by both parties involved in a dispute, do not attempt to impose any belief system upon any individual and work in compliance with State of Texas and US law under the United States Constitution.”
However, several things must be noted here. First, while such voluntary agreements are not strictly enforceable in a court of law, in any closed religious society — Christian, Muslim, Jewish, etc. — the social pressure to enter into such arbitration and opprobrium for not following its dictates aren’t necessarily trivial.
Second, the only area of practice listed on the Islamic Tribunal’s website is divorce. For reasons that I don’t think need to be explained in depth here, one specific party — the male — could almost always be expected to do better in that area of Shariah arbitration than in U.S. courts. Similar arbitration courts in the United Kingdom, which have more binding force of law, have faced reports of overt misogyny.
According to the U.K. Daily Mail, women have face situations where an abused wife was asked “Why did you marry such a person?” by a judge, and male heirs were given twice as much inheritance as female heirs.
The Texas legislation seems particularly aimed at family law, which means that other areas of institutional dispute within the faith community could likely still be resolved through such an arbitration process. Given the potential social pressures in faith communities, it’s not an appropriate venue for such laws.
The new Texas law may tick off a lot of people who believe that it’s targeting Muslims, but Gov. Abbott made the right decision.
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