Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) wants to ban Shariah law from federal courts. You might be asking yourself, “Do federal courts use Shariah law right now? Is this a problem I never even knew existed? How did I miss this?!”
Well, don’t worry, you’re not alone – because this is actually a terrible solution looking for a problem that doesn’t exist. And if it was just a foolhardy legislative time suck it might not be so worrisome (but still annoying); but the truth is anti-Muslim activists know exactly what they’re doing by introducing this kind of legislation: spreading half-truths and falsehoods about American Muslims and inciting anti-Muslim, Islamophobic sentiments.
Rep. Black is no stranger to this tactic.
In 2010, as a state senator in Tennessee, Rep. Black co-sponsored “Tennessee Laws for Tennessee Courts,” a controversial bill authored by anti-Muslim activist David Yerushalmi. The bill conflated Shariah with terrorism and would have made practices like praying and going to a mosque against the law. (A modified bill, which omitted any reference to Islam or Shariah, eventually passed.)
On July 15, Rep. Black issued a press release announcing her plans to introduce H.R. 3052, which would require federal courts to “follow and uphold” U.S. law over foreign law. The bill is based off model anti-Shariah legislation called “American Laws for American Courts” (ALAC).
Background on “anti-Shariah” laws
ALAC legislation is the brainchild of anti-Muslim lawyer and activist David Yerushalmi.
Yerushalmi’s goal for this legislation has been to provoke fear and anxieties about a mass Muslim conspiracy to implement Shariah in the U.S. He even admitted so in a 2011 interview with The New York Times.
ALAC bills are regularly introduced at the state level with the help of anti-Muslim grassroots groups like ACT! for America. So far, at least 10 states have passed some variation of the bill. But despite some state lawmakers’ decisions to introduce these bills each year, they are usually unsuccessful.
Now, it appears Rep. Black is aiming for the top and working to pass an ALAC-inspired bill at the federal level.
“We must ensure our judicial system is protected from an ideology [Shariah] that has no place within civilized society,” she wrote in the press release.
Per usual, the necessity of such a bill is highly questionable. This is because the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution already deems U.S. law to be the “supreme law of the land.” And while some judges may consider foreign or religious law in their adjudication, it is highly unlikely these laws would supersede U.S. law.
Still, Rep. Black is convinced Shariah is threatening to “usurp” the Constitution. And to support her claims, she turned to unreliable data published by a leading anti-Muslim group.
In her press release, Black links to a recent poll released by the far-right think tank, the Center for Security Policy, a group headed by Frank Gaffney. Not only is Gaffney one of the leading figureheads within the organized Islamophobia movement, but he is also a notorious anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist who warns about the alleged perils of Shariah lurking around every corner.
Gaffney’s latest poll seeks to provide evidence to support his claims that Muslims are a security threat to the United States and that a substantial number of U.S. Muslims hold Shariah law in higher regard than the U.S. Constitution. However, as highlighted by the Bridge Initiative, the poll is riddled with flaws and ultimately serves to further Gaffney’s own anti-Muslim narrative. Rep. Black’s willingness to uphold Gaffney’s work, despite its flaws, is unsurprising considering their close ties.
Aside from Gaffney’s propaganda, Rep. Black also cites a 2015 study by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service titled, International Law and Agreements:Their Effect upon U.S. Law. Laughably, this study actually makes the case against the necessity of Rep. Black’s bill.
According to the study, “In recent years, foreign or international legal sources have increasingly been cited by the Supreme Court when considering matters of U.S. law.
However, it adds: “While these sources have been looked to for persuasive value, they have not been treated as binding precedent by U.S. courts.”
This is hardly the first time Rep. Black has sounded the alarm about Shariah. In fact, this isn’t the first time she has sought to push this type of legislation at the federal level. During the 112th Congress in 2011 – 2012, Rep. Black was one of 91 co-sponsors of a similar failed bill prohibiting federal courts from “deciding any issue on the authority of foreign law.”
During her congressional run in 2012, Rep. Black campaigned against fellow Tennessean and anti-Muslim activist Lou Ann Zelenik in what Mother Jones described as “the craziest GOP House race of the year.” In order to compete with her opponent, Rep. Black voiced her opposition to the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.
Rep. Black’s agenda isn’t limited to bashing Islam and Muslims, either. She is also a member of the House Immigration Reform Caucus (HIRC), a coalition of nativist lawmakers with longstanding ties to the organized anti-immigrant movement.
Rep. Black says she introduced H.R. 3052 to preserve the U.S. Constitution and justice system.
But if Rep. Black was serious about preserving these institutions, she would refrain from introducing bills that are not only unnecessary, but also make a mockery of our legislative process by diverting time and energy from serious issues to address a fictitious problem created solely by bigotry.