JEFFERSON CITY (BP) – Missouri’s governor vetoed legislation June 3 that some were calling an anti-Sharia law bill, keeping Missouri from becoming the seventh state to prohibit judges from considering foreign laws – including Islamic law – in their decisions.
The legislation, Senate Bill (SB) 267, passed both chambers in May to create a Civil Liberties Defense Act mandating that any court, arbitration, tribunal or administrative agency ruling would be unenforceable if based on a foreign law that is “repugnant or inconsistent with” the Missouri and U.S. constitutions.
While supporters said it would prohibit unforeseen invasions of Sharia law, the legislation did not specifically mention the Islamic legal tradition. It also exempted corporations that have agreed to abide by foreign laws.
The constitutional rights which the bill was most concerned with protecting included due process, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and privacy rights.
Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, said he vetoed the bill because it “seeks to introduce a solution to a problem that does not exist and, in so doing, puts in jeopardy some of the very liberties that the bill purports to protect.”
Because all foreign legal systems could be argued to be “inconsistent” with state and federal constitutions in the United States, Nixon said the bill “would needlessly cast doubt” on wills, trusts, marriage and divorce decrees and contracts that involve foreign law.
But what drew the most attention from the governor’s veto explanation was his contention that it would have “a chilling effect on foreign adoptions.”
The legislation, Nixon contended, “raises serious questions as to whether a Missouri court could consider the foreign decree or order that is necessary to finalize the adoption of a child from a foreign country,” especially if the country’s legal system is “inconsistent” with America’s.
State Sen. Brian Nieves, the chamber’s Republican whip, sponsored the legislation and called the governor’s veto explanation “gibberish,” saying, “His assertion that the bill somehow interferes with foreign adoptions is absurd.” He also said the governor had been “bamboozled” by the American Civil Liberties Union, which opposed the legislation.
An override of the veto is possible. The original bill passed the Senate 24-9, which is one more vote than needed for an override, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. It passed the House 109-41, the exact number of “yes” votes needed.
Nieves said he would consider whether to seek an override or to re-introduce the bill in the future with language specifying that it won’t affect foreign adoptions, according to the Post-Dispatch.
Anti-foreign law bills have been proposed in roughly 30 states, and six states – Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, South Dakota, Tennessee and Oklahoma –have passed them.
While such bills don’t specifically single out Sharia, it is often understood that the Islamic code is the target
David Yerushalmi, the Washington-based lawyer who drafted the template legislation used for anti-Sharia and anti-foreign law bills, told RNS the anti-Sharia movement “is growing every day.”
“People see the threat and also know that a bill that simply protects U.S. citizens and residents from constitutionally offensive foreign laws and judgments can only be a good thing,” Yerushalmi said.
Critics, though, have characterized anti-Sharia and anti-foreign law legislation as a waste of time.
“Call us naïve, but we are not losing any sleep over the creeping of Sharia law in Missouri,” an editorial in The Missourian said June 5. “We have faith that our courts and judges will uphold the Missouri and U.S. Constitution just like they have in the past.”
Nieves, however, in a statement to The Pathway, maintained, “This is truly a big issue for people of faith and those who believe in our Constitution.”
To contact Nixon’s office regarding the veto, click here.