No S.C. court ever has relied upon Islamic law. But a Berkeley County Republican remains intent on curbing “foreign law” in S.C. courts.
State Sen. Larry Grooms last month introduced a bill to prevent the use of “foreign law” in South Carolina. The country’s largest group of legal professionals opposes the effort, which the Council on American-Islamic Relations says is part of a thinly veiled national movement to demonize the Islamic faith.
Grooms’ bill does not mention Islam or its Sharia law by name. But CAIR argues the legislation purposefully is broad to circumvent legal challenges, and targets Islamic religious principles and practices.
Asked the purpose of his bill, Grooms said: “I intend Sharia law not replace constitutional laws and the laws of South Carolina in the court system.”
While no S.C. court ever has applied Sharia law, Grooms argues there have been cases in other states where courts have. “Not all the time is American jurisprudence upheld,” he said.
Grooms pointed to a New Jersey case where Sharia law was cited by a trial court in a sexual-assault case involving a Muslim couple. However, the trial court’s decision was reversed by the Superior Court of New Jersey.
Grooms says his bill would ban S.C. courts from considering all religious laws — Sharia is just an example, he adds — whose application would violate rights established under the South Carolina and U.S. constitutions.
Sharia is a set of principles derived from Islam that govern various aspects of life, from marriage to divorce to finance to fasting and prayer. Aspects of Sharia are incorporated in the legal codes of some Muslim countries. But Muslims around the world vary in their practice and interpretation of it, said Mutahir Sabree, a trustee of the Islamic Center of Columbia.
Sabree likens Sharia to Talmudic law in the Jewish faith, and he brushes aside as ridiculous the idea of imposing Islamic law in the United States.
“We see these attempts as fear-mongering, playing to the ignorance and fear of the unknown,” Sabree said. “As Muslims in non-Muslim countries, to impose Sharia law on the majority society, or force our religion on anyone, would be violating our own belief.”
As of 2018, 13 states had passed laws that forbid courts from considering any international law or a particular religious legal tradition — most often “Sharia law” — that doesn’t grant the same rights as the U.S. Constitution or a state’s constitution, according to CAIR.
Proponents say the legislation is an effort to protect U.S. values and democracy.
Critics of the legislation argue Sharia is as much a threat to U.S. constitutional rights as Old Testament Bible verses calling for the stoning of adulterers.
The American Bar Association opposes such legislation, stating it is “duplicative of safeguards that are already enshrined in federal and state law.”
“American courts will not apply Sharia or other rules (real or perceived) that are contrary to our public policy, including, for instance, rules that are incompatible with our notions of gender equality,” the Bar Association wrote in a 2011 resolution.
The association, too, warns such bills likely will have unintended and widespread negative consequences. Now, for instance, U.S. courts regularly must interpret and apply foreign laws in international business dealings and commercial disputes, marriages, divorces and custody decrees, it says.
Grooms introduced similar bills in 2013 and 2017 that failed to move out of committee.
In 2016, however, the S.C. House passed a bill, 68-42, to prohibit state judges from making any rulings based on Sharia. That bill died in the S.C. Senate.
Grooms’ bill currently lacks a co-sponsor, suggesting it has little support in the Legislature.
But he is not giving up.
“Eventually, we’re going to crack this nut, and have the protections and safeguards many of my constituents have been asking for,” Grooms said.