LITTLE ROCK — A bill to require that only American laws be considered in Arkansas courts cleared a House committee Thursday, with supporters calling it a preventative measure and opponents saying it will be perceived as anti-Muslim.
In a voice vote that was not unanimous, the House Judiciary Committee gave a “do pass” recommendation to House Bill 1041 by Rep. Brandt Smith, R-Jonesboro. The bill goes to the House.
The bill would prohibit the application of foreign laws in an Arkansas court when the application of a foreign law would result in the violation of a fundamental right guaranteed by the Arkansas or U.S. Constitution.
Smith, who filed a similar bill in 2015 that passed in the House but died in a Senate committee, said after the committee meeting his bill is needed to prevent foreign laws from encroaching on the judicial system in Arkansas. He said he was not aware of any such incidents in the state.
“I’m just trying to say, let’s get out ahead of something before we have to work on cleanup after the fact,” he said.
Several people spoke against the bill, including Hashim Ghori, a founding member of the Islamic Center of Little Rock, who said there is no threat to American justice from sharia law, or Islamic religious law.
Smith said his bill does not mention sharia law and is not targeted at it specifically. However, helping Smith present the bill was retired Marine Corps Col. Paul Deckert of the Center for Security Policy, a group that claims there is an ongoing effort to install sharia law in American courts.
Brandon Markin of North Little Rock said the bill is unnecessary because Americans are already protected by American laws and the U.S. Constitution.
“The only effect I believe it will have is to alienate communities that are already marginalized,” he said.
Some questioned whether the law would limit American companies’ ability to do business with other countries and whether it would violate the separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches of government.
HB 1041 lists several fundamental rights, including “the right to marry, as ‘marriage’ is defined by Arkansas Constitution, Amendment 83.”
Amendment 83, approved by voters in 2004, defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. It has been ruled unconstitutional, and gay marriage has been legalized nationwide by a June 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
D. Bruce Hill, president of Arkansas Universalist Unitarian Justice Ministry, said the inclusion of Amendment 83 in the bill sends the message that constitutional rights do not apply to same-sex couples.
Smith told reporters later, “That’s my personal belief, that marriage is between a man and a woman, not between the same sexes.”