Montana lawmakers are close to passing a bill aimed at preventing Islamic law from being used in court cases, an unfounded conspiracy theory based on no evidence that claims Muslims in America are trying to subvert the US Constitution.
While the bill, SB97, does not single out Islamic law in its language — it aims to prohibit “the application of foreign law” — much of the discussion surrounding the bill on Monday focused on Shariah law, according to the Associated Press.
“If you go back and listen to the testimony of the proponents of this bill in both the House and Senate, the legislative intent is crystal clear that it targets one religion,” Democratic Rep. Ellie Hill Smith of Missoula told the AP. “That this was a Shariah law bill. It’s what every proponent had talked about.”
The state House passed the bill by a vote of 56-44. The bill must now go through a final vote, and if it passes, will go to on to Montana Governor Steve Bullock for signing.
“The governor will take a close look at the proposed legislation if it reaches his desk,” spokeswoman Ronja Abel told the AP. “He would prefer the Legislature pass an infrastructure bill that would build Montana communities and put folks to work all across the state.”
BuzzFeed News has sought comment from to the sponsor of the bill, Sen. Regier, Rep. Ellie Hill, and Montana’s Governor Steve Bullock.
Many advocates see this bill, and those like it, as unnecessary and redundant because their provisions violate the Constitution of the United States.
Some advocates also see these bills as evidence of overt bigotry and an irrational fear of “creeping Sharia” — a term in anti-Muslim circles that stems from an anti-Islam sentiment — and the belief that the US and its citizens are in danger of Islamic law entering the US legal system and affecting daily life.
In 2017 alone, thirteen states have introduced similar anti-foreign law bills, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Nine states already have laws that prohibit foreign law. Over 120 similar bills or amendments aimed at preventing Sharia law from being applied to US courts have been submitted in state legislatures since 2011.
Similar bills stopped mentioning Sharia law in particular after Oklahoma lawmakers in 2010 voted to amend the state’s constitution to include anti-Sharia language — which a federal judge in 2013 said violated the US Constitution. Subsequent legislative initiatives to use the words “foreign law” instead of “Sharia law,” in order to increase the chances of bills passing muster.
The main driving force behind these laws and related conspiracy theories, according to the Anti-Defamation League, has been the work of David Yerushalmi, an Arizona lawyer who the Southern Poverty Law Center called an “anti-Muslim activist.” Yerushalmi, in addition to his own work and writings, is also associated with other anti-Muslim groups, such as the Center for Security Policy, a group run by noted conspiracy theorist and former Reagan-era Pentagon official Frank Gaffney. He also has represented the Quran-burning Florida pastor Terry Jones and is connected with other anti-Muslim crusaders such as Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer — both founders of the group anti-Muslim group Stop Islamization of America.
Yerushalmi, through his group, American Laws for American Courts (ALAC), has provided the defining template for many anti-foreign law or anti-Sharia bills around the country. Montana’s bill SB97 appears to have similar passages, to ALAC bill templates, as well as identical portions from other anti-foreign law bills across the country that likely also drew from ALAC’s template.
“Like other anti-Islam legislation, the Montana bill redundantly protects rights already guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution,” said Corey Saylor, the director of the Department to Monitor and Combat Islamophobia at the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “The legislators behind the bill should take a break from wasting taxpayer time and money, admit their goal is anti-Muslim fearmongering, and then take a basic course on how the U.S. Constitution works.”
Muslims make up less than one percent of the population in Montana, according to the Pew Research Center.