DETROIT — Four legal experts, all professors at Wayne State University’s Law School, took on the trend of states trying to ban the use of foreign laws, particularly Sharia, the religious law of Islam, on Sept. 11 during the first of the fall speaker series sponsored by Wayne Law’s Program of International Legal Studies.
One such attempt at a state constitutional amendment, Oklahoma’s 2010 Save Our State Amendment, specifically mentioned Sharia, and was supported strongly by state voters. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit recently struck down the amendment as a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.
Now a number of other states, including Michigan, have similar measures in the works. Most of these proposals don’t specifically mention Sharia, but, said Assistant Professor Justin Long, they clearly are intended to target it anyway. He compared the trend to the Blaine Amendments passed by dozens of states in the mid-1800s. Blaine Amendments, which are still in effect in many states, prohibit the use of state funds for “sectarian” schools, and originated via the anti-Catholicism sentiment in the country at the time, Long said.
That trend — and the current one where states are trying to ban the use of foreign laws, particularly Sharia — are part of a debate about “what it means to be American,” Long said.
The proponents of the Oklahoma amendment “wanted to say that Muslims were not really Americans — were not like us,” Long said.
Michigan’s proposal, House Bill 4769 sponsored by Rep. Dave Agema (R-Grandville), is “largely symbolic,” said Professor of Law Jonathan Weinberg.
He explained that all state courts, including those in Michigan, already have the power to reject foreign or international laws that violate state public policy. The proposed amendment adds nothing to that existing power, he said.
Associate Professor of Law Paul Dubinsky talked about the authority states have to determine law, and some of the legal questions that are arising as a result of the current trend of states trying to ban foreign laws.
And Assistant Professor Christopher Lund explained that Sharia is religious law, not a foreign law.
“Secular courts can’t enforce religious issues,” he said. “People have come to be afraid of foreign law, particularly Sharia law, without knowing what they’re afraid of.”
Professor of Law Gregory Fox, moderator of the panel and director of Wayne Law’s Program in International Legal Studies, said, “There’s extraordinary confusion on the part of these drafters about what constitutes foreign law.”
Other topics in the fall lecture series will include:
Sept. 20 — “Treaties in American Law: Retreating from International Commitments?”
Oct. 1 — “Chevron v. Ecuador: American Discovery Goes Global”
Oct. 23 — “Foreign Policy and the Next President: International Relations in the 2012 election”
Nov. 6 — “Constitutional Reform in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia”
All of the events are set for 12:15 p.m. in the Spencer M. Partrich Auditorium at Wyane Law, 471 w. Palmer St., Detroit. The events are free and open to the public and lunch will be served.
Visit www.law.wayne.edu/international-studies for more information on Wayne Law’s Program for International Studies.