(Quin Hillyer, Liberty Headlines) With passage of a law protecting American families from imposition of foreign-law doctrines in state courts, Texas this week became the 11th state to ensure that only American laws will apply in American domestic courts.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday signed the Texas Foreign Law Procedural Protection Act – a slightly slimmed-down version of similar laws either passed or under consideration across the country. Often dubbed “anti-sharia” laws, these “American Laws for American Courts” (ALAC) efforts would protect against judges imposing any foreign doctrine – not just sharia – which violates American constitutional rights.
Most such conflicts of legal doctrine occur in family-law disputes – child custody battles, for example – where at least one of the parties claims to be guided by foreign cultural or legal practices. The Texas law, in fact, is narrowly tailored specifically to cover foreign child custody judgments and child custody arbitrations, rather than applying more broadly.
But as sharia doctrines – female subservience and the like – are most often at issue in just these sorts of court battles, the Texas law is still seen by its advocates as a major advance, even if not fully following the model of other ALAC laws.
Earlier this year, Arkansas had become the 10th state to adopt ALAC protections, joining Tennessee, Louisiana, Arizona, Kansas, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, and Washington. (South Dakota and Florida also have laws that are somewhat similar, but not truly ALAC, according to ALAC’s main national sponsors.)
The most prominent organization pushing ALAC bills, the Center for Security Policy, produced a 2015 study called “Shariah in American Courts: The Expanding Incursion of Islamic Law in the U.S. Legal System.” CSP reported 146 cases in 32 states in which a party to litigation attempted to have the matter resolved by applying sharia, rather than the statutes of the state in question – and more than two dozen cases where judges either at the trial or appellate level actually ruled sharia trumped U.S. statutes. The CSP web site says that such rulings “have often resulted in a denial of equal protection to American Muslim women or children seeking justice in American courts.”
“We’ve been working on this issue in Texas since 2011 – and they have sessions only every other year, so if we hadn’t won this time, we would have had to wait two more years,” said Chris Holton, CSP’s vice president for outreach, in an interview with Liberty Headlines. “So we’re thrilled.”
In addition to the ALAC laws passed this year by Arkansas and Texas, two other states passed legislation aimed at related issues this year. Tennessee passed a “Freedom to Report Terrorism Act,” which immunizes, against lawsuits alleging discriminatory intent, individuals who in good faith report suspected potential criminal or terrorist activity. Florida, meanwhile, passed a law allowing greater means for recovery of civil damages against terrorists.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, which some critics accuse of pushing an agenda in tune with radicalized Islamists, strongly opposed the Texas law and other similar ones, saying such legislation “demoniz[es]” their beliefs and promotes “Islamophobia.” In printed material, CSP responds that its laws protect the rights of Muslims, too, and that the laws are religiously neutral. Also, it says the model ALAC law “specifically says that the law cannot detract from the right to free exercise of religion, which would include religious courts like Jewish Bet Din or Catholic ecclesiastical courts; and it states that the law would not interfere with compliance with international treaties the U.S. has signed.”
Outside of Christian publications and some coverage in Texas, the Lone Star State’s adoption of an ALAC law has received scant media attention.