Democrats in Montana have opposed a newly passed Senate bill that prohibits state courts from applying foreign law, citing the legislation targets Muslims, and one lawmaker going so far as to say that banning Sharia law is “repugnant.”
Senate Bill 97, introduced by Keith Regier (R-Kalispell), does not specifically mention Sharia law, though it was the only foreign law mentioned during debates in both the Senate and House judiciary committees.
Sharia law is the religious governance followed by people practicing Islam. Sharia utilizes religious texts to determine divine will. Its implementation varies across the world, with Saudi Arabia adhering to strict punishments like stoning, while in other countries it is most regularly used in personal law such as marriage and divorce.
The bill reportedly passed in the House on party lines with a 56-44 vote.
Democrats argued that the bill was designed to target Muslims while Republicans contended that it reinforces the Montana and U.S. Constitutions.
Representative Shane Morigeau (D-Missoula) delivered harsh sentiments while debating the bill, calling it “repugnant.”
“I think it sends a dangerous message to minority groups both here living in our state and wanting to come visit our state, just merely on the fact that you may be different,” said Morigeau. He added, “I truly believe this law is repugnant. I believe this is not who we are as Montanans.”
Reportedly, Rep. Brad Tschida (R-Missoula) maintained that the legislation is not intended to target a specific group and instead protects freedom of religion. “As far as being determined xenophobic, that’s an insult,” Tschida said. “I’m not intolerant. This is not anti-Muslim.”
Tschida asserted that the bill was an attempt to push back against a “Constitution [that] is constantly under assault.”
Theresa Manzella (R-Hamilton) called the discussion over the bill being a religious law unwarranted. “We’ve heard a lot of discussions about this being a religious law and specifically directed at preventing Sharia Law and I just don’t read it that way,” said Manzella.
However, Rep. Ellie Hill Smith (D-Missoula) disagreed, claiming the bill targets people who practice Islam. The lawmaker pushed for an amendment that specifies a ban on both Sharia Law and the Law of Moses, which later failed to pass with an 82-18 vote.
Representative Laurie Bishop (D-Livingston) also chimed in, saying the legislation is similar to a bill that was previously struck down in Oklahoma which does mention Sharia Law. She argued that Senate Bill 97 will likely have the same fate even if it does not specifically mention Sharia Law. “Let’s not forget the roots of this bill,” she said. “Let’s not forget that our children are watching.”
The SB97 bill is now scheduled to be sent to Montana governor Steve Bullock’s (D) desk for signature or veto.
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