A bill approved in the state House Thursday bans Sharia or other foreign laws from being applied in South Carolina’s court system.
Specifically, the bill bars attorneys from using the Islamic religious legal system as a defense in Family Court or other judicial hearings. The legislation passed largely along party lines 68-42, with majority Republicans supporting and Democrats opposed. The bill needs one more procedural vote next week before passing to the Senate.
State Rep. Bill Taylor, R- Aiken, said he has heard from his constituency on the issue. “I think it’s my obligation to vote in favor of this and see that it gets sent to the Senate,” Taylor said on the floor of the chamber Thursday. The legislation does not explicitly use the word “Sharia,” and instead prohibits courts from enforcing “foreign law.” But supporters acknowledge the Islamic code is their primary target.
But State Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia, said the legislation is not necessary as there has never been a case of any defendant arguing Sharia in any South Carolina court. “This actually does nothing, will add no additional protection, but it will tend to alienate a very important population in our state,” Smith said during debate.
Sharia law is defined as the body of Islamic law. The term means “way” or “path”; it is the legal framework within which the public and some private aspects of life are regulated for those living in a legal system based on Islam. Several Muslim-majority countries in the Mideast and Africa incorporate most or some of the laws into their legal systems.
The bill’s sponsor State Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, acknowledged there has never been a Sharia defense in the state, but said he wanted to make sure no one could try the defense as justification for domestic violence or other charges in the future.
Smith questioned why the bill would be necessary, arguing most American Muslims do not practice Sharia Law and are not in favor of it.
That comment prompted Rep. Chris Corley, R-Aiken, to respond. “If the Muslims are against Sharia Law because they love this country and all that and we’re against Sharia Law because we think it’s bad, how are we offending those people who are against Sharia Law by passing this?”
Smith said members of the Muslim community feel they are being “unfairly targeted” by lawmakers who stoke fears among non-Muslim citizens of a practically nonexistent threat. He questioned why the first floor debate of 2016 would be on this particular bill.
The measure faces much tougher passage in the Senate, where opponents have more tools to slow down or delay debate. Limehouse has introduced similar bills for the past several years.